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 center position.
Starter: Connor McGovern
The Broncos made a decision that could come back to haunt them in 2019. They showed no hesitation when it came to former starting center Matt Paradis, allowing him to leave in free agency earlier this offseason. Paradis rejected the Broncos low-ball offers and instead signed a three-year, $27 million contract with $12 million guaranteed in Carolina. He was coming off a broken ankle that limited him to just nine games for the Broncos in 2018, but Paradis is expected to be ready for training camp in 2019.
Instead of paying Paradis a big-money contract, the Broncos decided to see what Connor McGovern can do as the starting center.
McGovern was a fifth-round pick out of Missouri for the Broncos in the 2016 NFL Draft. He was known as a power player during his days in college, and McGovern won consistently at guard or tackle with strength. McGovern did have the versatility to play all along the offensive line, and he had more athleticism than some gave him credit for in the pre-draft process – but McGovern had zero starting experience at center during his time with the Tigers.
He did start at guard for the Broncos before Paradis was hurt last season. When Paradis was lost around the midway point of the season, McGovern stepped in to start the rest of the year. During that time, he struggled at times in the middle.
McGovern has a problem with shotgun snaps from time to time. Last season, quarterback Case Keenum would have to gather in low snaps from the shotgun, disrupting the timing of the play and they were plays that usually didn’t work out well for the Broncos. McGovern showed great strength in the middle, but these problems with deep snaps is something that still bothers him today.
During OTAs and mandatory minicamp I saw at least a couple of low snaps that Joe Flacco had to gather from the top of his shoe laces. That’s something I know that McGovern is working hard to improve at the facility and also on his own time. The Broncos must have faith that he can clean up this part of his game and we’ll see if he can perform better when snapping to Flacco in the shotgun.
New offensive line coach Mike Munchak has some work to do with McGovern. We all know that McGovern is a hard worker and is quite coachable as a veteran in this league. He does not think he knows everything and McGovern will likely listen intently to what Munchak has to say.
The Broncos don’t have another option if McGovern struggles in 2019. Yes, there are some reserve players, but none of them are ready to start. Sure, there are guards like Sam Jones who could slide in to play center in a pinch.
Simply put, McGovern has to play well at this position.
Reserves: Ryan Crozier, Jake Brendel, Nico Falah (IR)
The Broncos have already had a season-ending injury at the reserve center position. Back in mid-May during OTAs, Nico Falah injured his Achilles’ and was put on injured reserve. Falah was an undrafted free agent out of Southern California that the Broncos signed off the Jets practice squad last October. He was active for one game but did not see game action. Before he could even show whether or not he could make the final roster again this year, Falah is done for the season.
Ryan Crozier is actually the only player on the team’s official website listed as a center. Undrafted out of UConn in 2019, Crozier has plenty of experience playing center with 29 starts in college. With that experience came plenty of production for the Huskies rushing attack. In 2018, Crozier started all 12 games at center and blocked for two 1,000-yard rushers (quarterback David Pindell, running back Kevin Mensah).
Crozier measures in at 295 pounds and is incredibly agile, speedy and athletic. He does need to work on his strength to hold up against NFL defenders, so Crozier likely needs a year in the Broncos weight program before he’s ready for regular season action. UConn had four offensive line coaches during Crozier’s time with the team, so he should really benefit from Munchak’s steady guidance. If Crozier performs well in training camp, he is likely bound for the practice squad.
Jake Brendel was undrafted out of UCLA back in 2016. Originally picked up by the Cowboys, Brendel didn’t make the final roster and was released with an injury settlement after the preseason. The Dolphins picked him up and he was with them for almost three years. In Miami, Brendel struggled to stay healthy, but he did get to work with now-Broncos offensive line assistant Chris Kuper. It’s only logical that Kuper gave Brendel a recommendation when the Broncos picked up the veteran around mid-April.
During his college career, Brendel was a leader for the Bruins as a four-year starter and three-year co-captain. He is not the biggest lineman (285 pounds) and lacks the arm length or athleticism that most scouts are looking for at the center position. Brendel does play with great strength, works hard in the weight room and is known as a very coachable player. His experience working with Kuper gives him a leg up, but Brendel is far from a lock for the Broncos 53-man roster.
The Broncos need Connor McGovern to work as the starting center. Even with a veteran quarterback, McGovern is still the QB of the offensive line and needs to make the right calls before the snap. McGovern has to clean up his shotgun snaps and do a better job of getting the ball back there on time and in the right position. The Broncos won’t be in the shotgun as much as other teams across the league, but McGovern doesn’t need to throw off the timing of a play due to a bad snap.
The play of the Broncos offensive line will determine their success in 2019. It’s easy to make an argument that McGovern is the most important player on the offensive line and he’s under the most pressure of any starting offensive lineman for the Broncos this season.
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