ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Given the physicality that comes with battling in the trenches, it is typical for offensive lines to encounter some injuries over the course of 17 games.
For the Broncos, however, the 2022 season posed an unprecedented challenge.
Guard Graham Glasgow was the lone offensive lineman to play in every game for Denver, as the unit was consistently battered by injuries. Left tackle Garett Bolles missed 12 games after suffering a season-ending leg injury in Week 5, and center Lloyd Cushenberry III and right tackle Billy Turner each missed nine games. Guard/center Quinn Meinerz missed four games, tackle Calvin Anderson missed three games and tackle Cam Fleming and left guard Dalton Risner missed two games apiece.
This abundance of injuries resulted in the Broncos featuring 10 different starting combinations on the offensive line in 2022, making it difficult for the group to establish chemistry.
"It's crazy, man," Cushenberry said following the final contest of the season. "[The injuries] started during camp. ... Don't want to make excuses [because] injuries are a real situation that every team goes through, but I've never seen anything like what we've been through this year."
Regardless of which players take the field, the offensive line holds itself to much higher standards than it showed in 2022. The Broncos' 63 sacks allowed this season were the most in the NFL, and Russell Wilson was sacked on 10.2 percent of his pass attempts, trailing only Chicago's Justin Fields.
Bolles noted that even with injuries, the performance from the offensive line was unacceptable — and when he returns to the field next season, he plans to do everything in his power to turn things around.
"We've got to bring in some pieces," Bolles said. "We've got to ramp up our O-line, of course. That was something that we've got to deal with, so I'm going to do everything I can to get the guys right up front. Like I said, our defense is set. We're one of the best defenses in football, and it's been like that for years now. Seeing them do their thing, we've got to do our part. We've got to make them more successful. We've got to put points on the scoreboard, make sure they're catching their breath so they can go out there and do their job. When we do that ... this is a hard team to beat in all three phases of the game."
Executing at a higher level on the offensive line is not just important for the Broncos' offense as a whole, Bolles said, but particularly for Wilson's success. The nine-time Pro Bowler showed in the season's final weeks that he can still play at an elite level, and Bolles said that if the offensive line gives Wilson greater protection, the sky is the limit for what he can do.
"We've got to do better around [Wilson]," Bolles said. "We've got to make him successful and let him do what he does best."
When the Broncos hire their next head coach, they'll hope to find a long-term coach to guide the offensive line, as well. Save for Mike Munchak's three-year stint from 2019-21, the Broncos have had a different offensive line coach each year since 2016. Having the same leadership over multiple seasons would allow them to jell and develop as a group, Cushenberry noted — and that consistency could be a difference-maker for the offensive line.
"It's just as important as having the same five guys in the lineup throughout the year," Cushenberry said. "Having that cohesion throughout the year is very key, so whoever they bring in, whoever the new coach decides to hire, hopefully he's here for a long time. We've got some good pieces we can build on; we've just got to continue to get better."
Bolles and Cushenberry understand that the success of the offense hinges on the offensive line's ability to facilitate the run game and protect the quarterback in the passing game. If the unit can perform at a high level in 2023, Cushenberry said, the Broncos' offense will be hard to slow down.
"We all understand we have to get better, and [Wilson] understands that he didn't play to his standards," Cushenberry said. "We didn't play to our standards. It's going to continue to get better, man, and next year, we're going to turn this thing around. We all believe that. This offseason is going to be nothing but work. We still believe in Russ and believe in what's to come for this organization. It's going to be special."