The Broncos want to get back to their winning ways in 2019. They’ve completely revamped the roster with the hopes that this combination of players makes a run at the postseason – or at least plays .500 football or better.
This roster is full of talented players on both sides of the ball, but there are questions that need to be answered during training camp. In this series on 1043TheFan.com, we will go through each position group searching for those answers.
This is the latest part in our Training Camp Preview. Today, we’ll take a deep dive on the offensive guard position.
Starting Left Guard: Dalton Risner
The Broncos might have gotten a steal of the 2019 NFL Draft when they selected Kansas State offensive tackle Dalton Risner in the second round. Last year, the Broncos had a chance to select offensive guard Quenton Nelson in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Instead, Bradley Chubb fell to them and they selected him with the No. 5 overall pick and they passed on Nelson who went one pick after Chubb.
The one player who came close to Nelson on film in the 2019 NFL Draft was Risner.
His attitude is infectious and Risner is known as a high-energy player who plays the game with a ton of heart and passion. Risner is from Wiggins, Colo., and is country strong when it comes to pushing other men around on the football field. He can control his man at the point of attack and eliminate him from the play.
I had Risner graded as a right tackle, and I put his value in the first round. The Broncos were able to get him at No. 41 overall and I was surprised that he lasted that long. The league’s loss is the Broncos gain.
I was also surprised the Broncos moved him to the left side to play guard. In free agency, Denver filled their long-time need at right tackle by acquiring Ja’Wuan James, so they didn’t need Risner to play tackle right now.
He can play four out of the five positions on the offensive line with the lone exception being left tackle. Speaking of left tackle, Risner’s got to quickly establish chemistry with Garett Bolles. During the last two seasons as the Broncos starting left tackle, Bolles has struggled to impress. He has been beaten any number of ways, drawn a ton of penalties and shown frustration in his play.
Like Bolles, Risner is a mean player on the field. Unlike Bolles, Risner keeps his cool when facing a tough opponent. It would be a boost for the Broncos if Risner’s steady mindset rubbed off on Bolles in 2019. Risner is a devastating run-blocker and should be able to provide quality pass-protection on the inside at guard. It’s important for him to work well with Bolles so the two can watch out for twists and stunts thrown at them from the defensive line.
Starting Right Guard: Ron Leary
It may not be his favorite position, but veteran guard Ron Leary is back to playing right guard for the Broncos in 2019. Leary was a “good get” for the Broncos when they picked him up in free agency back in 2017. A part-time starter for the Cowboys, Leary would now get his chance for a full-time role with the Broncos.
Unfortunately, that would be at right guard instead of his more natural position of left guard. Also unfortunately, the injury bug that plagued Leary during his playing days in Dallas followed him to the Mile High City.
Leary appeared in only 11 games in his first season with the Broncos. A back injury forced him out of action and Leary ended the 2017 season on injured reserve. As he was recovering from his back injury, Leary went under the knife for a knee scope in the 2018 offseason and missed some workouts. He did move back to left guard, where he played for the Cowboys, and seemed to be a better fit at that spot.
However, Leary made it through just six games before an Achilles’ injury ended his season. Ever since that time, Leary has been on the long road to recovery.
The veteran lineman was limited through OTAs earlier this offseason and even took a bit of time off to get some extra rest. He did participate fully in mandatory minicamp, as did the complete starting offensive line for the Broncos.
He’s more of a power player than a zone player, so Leary might be a bit of an odd fit in the wide-zone blocking scheme the Broncos are implementing in 2019. Leary is a big man and has no problem controlling his man and bulldozing his way through a defender. He does a good job of using his hands and as a seasoned veteran, Leary knows all the tricks of the trade.
Leary’s lack of athleticism is something that is somewhat negated by his great footwork. He’s not going to hit moving targets the way a guard like Risner can, but he doesn’t overcommit with his feet to get wildly out of position.
There is no question that Leary is a solid starter when healthy – it’s just that “staying healthy” business that has been a trouble for him during his entire pro career. The Broncos need to be ready in case Leary misses more time this season.
Reserves: Chaz Green, Sam Jones, Austin Schlottmann
The Broncos don’t have a ton of upside in the reserve guards listed on the roster. The veteran in this group, Chaz Green, does not provide much more than veteran depth if he makes the team.
Green has started seven games during his NFL career, with some incredibly bad performances (allowed four sacks against the Falcons in 2017) along the way. A third-round pick for the Cowboys in the 2015 NFL Draft, Green started at both left and right tackle for the Florida Gators in college. He’s known as a smart player who plays with outstanding footwork, making him a good fit for the Broncos zone-blocking scheme. Green has position versatility and can play all five positions on the offensive line, but he doesn’t stand out in any one spot.
Sam Jones, a local product from ThunderRidge High School, was selected by the Broncos in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. During his college career at Arizona State, he was known for his athleticism and ability to climb to the second level of the defense to get a block on a moving target. Jones is not a power player, but the Broncos don’t utilize a power-rushing attack. Instead, Jones is a great fit in a wide-zone scheme like the one Denver will use this season. As a rookie in 2018, Jones was active in five games, but only played 12 total snaps on offense. We’ll see if he can get more playing time in 2019, but Jones does seem to be a pretty good bet to make the 53-man roster again.
Austin Schlottmann has a year under his belt with the Broncos and that could give him a leg up in the competition for a reserve guard spot. His versatility is also something that could at least keep him on the practice squad for the 2019 season. Schlottmann was a two-year starter at center during his college career at TCU, but he did also start a few games as a sophomore at right guard. The Broncos seem to have a jam-packed group at center, so perhaps Schlottmann’s greatest chance to make the team is as a guard. He is a student of the game and uses nuance, guile and technique to stand out.
Good thing the Broncos have versatility up front on the offensive line. The inside guard position has a nice mixture of youth and experience for the 2019 season.
So long as Leary can stay healthy, the right side of the offensive line should be quite strong. The Broncos are a run-first, run-often team and they need the interior of the line to power their way through opponents. Leary is most known for his power and that’s what the Broncos need him most for this year.
Risner is one of the most exciting young players on the Broncos roster. His attitude is exactly what this Broncos line (and team) need more of. Risner is aggressive, smart and strong willed when it comes to blocking his man. It’s important for him to be a good run-blocker, but it’s likely more important for Risner to make sure that he does a good job working in tandem with Bolles.
I’ve said it multiple times this offseason, the fate of the 2019 Broncos depends on what the offensive line does. The tackles on the outside may have more pressure on them, but the guards on the inside have to put in work and help lead the way for the rushing attack.
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