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Is Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles getting any better in 2019?

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Broncos hoped they selected a franchise left tackle when they picked up Garett Bolles with the No. 20 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He’s been a starter for every game over the last two years, but has failed to live up to expectations.

A decision needs to be made on his fifth-year option for the 2021 season after this season is up. Thus, Bolles is in a bit of a make-or-break season with the Broncos.

During the course of training camp, I have been watching Bolles closely to determine whether or not he’s going to finally play up to his potential. Is Bolles actually improving this offseason?

Let’s take a look.

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It’s Not About Skill

The main thing that Bolles is known for is drawing a lot of holding penalties. He should be known more for his physical skill set. Bolles has talent and is quite athletic for a man of his size. He’s got the movement ability to shadow most pass rushers he’s tasked with blocking, and he plays with a ferocity that can both be a positive and a negative.

The Broncos didn’t get the physical scouting report on Bolles wrong. He’s very gifted athletically and has the footwork that most left tackles in the league can’t match. Bolles inefficiencies are not about his physical skill set, it’s more about his technique as a blocker.

Bolles is athletic, but too often he will lean into his man and turn to get perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. Once he does that, he looks to hold his man just to keep him away from the quarterback.

So far in practice, Bolles has done a better job of shadowing defenders without turning his hips too much. He’s not leaning as much when blocking and thus is able to keep his base while blocking. Bolles still catches too many defenders and needs to get better at punching his man, but it is good to see him use multiple sets instead of stepping to the same distance and falling back into the same old habits that have plagued him so far in two seasons.

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Listen Up

Bolles has had a problem listening to previous coaching staffs. Last year in training camp on more than one occasion, we would see Bolles walk away after a drill when his coach was trying to emphasize a teachable moment.

This offseason, the Broncos hired Mike Munchak to run the offensive line. He is a Hall of Fame player and known as a fantastic coach. Simply put, very few coaches in the league can match the resume or results that Munchak has had as an offensive line coach.

Before the start of training camp at the media BBQ, I asked Broncos general manager John Elway what kind of impact Munchak would have on Bolles.

“I think Mike Munchak will help him tremendously. I think Mike is a tremendous offensive line coach, and I think his expertise and his background — where he comes from and having played the position, being a Hall of Famer — and then the coaching career that he has, I think it’s really going to help us on the offensive line,” Elway said.

If Bolles can’t listen to a coach with the credibility of Munchak, then there’s simply no hope for him. Fortunately, during the last two weeks of training camp, I’ve seen Bolles be much more engaged when receiving coaching from Munchak or assistant offensive line coach Chris Kuper. This is a great sign for the young tackle as the team wants him to perform at a high level and he needs to hear the message and ignore any sort of yelling or “extra emphasis” tough coaching comes with.

Bolles is a physically tough player, but he needs to show that he can be more mentally tough and respond to the tough love the coaching staff is giving him. So far, so good in that aspect from what I’ve seen.

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Mind Games

The biggest obstacle that Bolles needs to overcome has to do with his ability to let bad plays go. It seems like when he makes a bad play or is called for a penalty, the bad vibes stick with him and it usually spirals downward for the left tackle. Bolles needs to shake off bad plays and keep his mind focused on the next play and the task at hand.

Broncos defensive end Adam Gotsis had some positive things to say about the offensive line and Bolles.

“They’re playing well. They’re playing together as a unit. Good communication and pretty solid, I think Bolles has made a big jump,” Gotsis said during training camp.

Teammates know that Bolles will hold onto bad plays and that means they can get in his head at times. Earlier in camp, inside linebacker Josey Jewell collided with Bolles and knocked him down.

Jewell’s comments after practice highlight what Bolles still needs to work on.

“Yeah, I think he was mad the rest of the day that I got him knocked over. You might want to talk to him about that now,” Jewell said.

This has to be overcome if Bolles is truly going to play up to his potential. So far in training camp, he is still having problems letting go. Hopefully, he can continue to work on this issue and keep a level head if he does make an error, get called for a penalty or have a bad play.

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Summary

There is no way to tell right now if Bolles is going to be a better player in 2019. What we have to do is look at the signs to see if they’re pointing in a certain direction.

Bolles is doing a better job of shading his man correctly and gets into bad position fewer times than he had in the past. That should lead to fewer holding penalties, as he’s staying away from poor technique. Bolles does have a reputation as a holder, so he will have to overcome that as well.

It seems like he’s doing a better job of listening to his coaches, and that could matter most at the end of the day. Bolles seems to be more receptive to coaching and has certainly warmed up to the coaching staff but also to rookie left guard Dalton Risner. Bolles still hold onto bad plays and needs to clean that part of his game up as much as he can before the start of the regular season.

Is Bolles getting better? Believe it or not, yes. He’s far from a finished product but at least he seems to be slowly moving in the right direction at this time.