The 2019 season has not gone as planned for the Broncos. With a 3-8 record, they have five games remaining in the season with three of those contests at home. They have no shot of making it to the postseason, so the team needs to begin looking to the future.
Everyone is focused on the quarterback position – for good reasons – and the potential change coming with rookie Drew Lock perhaps being inserted as the starter. That’s the main focus of the team, or at least it should be, as the Broncos need to find out whether or not Lock has the potential to be their franchise quarterback.
However, that’s not the only position that could see a change in the starting lineup. I believe this team could try some different offensive line combinations during the last month of the season.
In fact, the Broncos might look at benching left tackle Garett Bolles in my opinion. It’s the reason why I asked Broncos head coach Vic Fangio on Monday if experimenting with different offensive line combinations is something they would consider.
“That’s all dependent upon Ja’Wuan (James),” Fangio answered, referring to the Broncos high-priced right tackle who has missed most of the season with knee injuries. “He’s cleared to play, but we have to get him ready to play. He’s got to get mentally ready to play, emotionally ready to play and be able to go out there and play good, not just go out there. That’s part of that equation.”
Is Bolles about to get benched? Let’s take a look.
For years, Bolles has gotten an opportunity to play left tackle with little chance or likelihood that he could be benched. Yet, all we hear when coaches talk about Bolles (especially Fangio) is that Bolles doesn’t have that much experience playing left tackle. Coming out of Utah, Bolles only had one year of experience playing left tackle at the FBS level.
While that lack of experience was true when the Broncos selected him in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, I no longer believe that can be used as a reason why Bolles continues to struggle.
No other player on the roster has gotten as much time and opportunity to prove himself as Bolles has received during the last two and a half years. Other first-round picks – like quarterback Paxton Lynch, cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Shane Ray – were not afforded the same opportunity as Bolles.
Simply put, Bolles has enough experience now (and so little development) for the Broncos to finally determine it’s time to move on from him. In fact, it is something the team needs to have clarity on as they need to decide on his fifth-year option for 2021 after this season. It doesn’t seem like they will pick up that option, so 2020 could be the final year that Bolles is on the roster.
Banged Up Group
Last week on the first day of practice, the Broncos had three interior offensive linemen that sat out. Left guard Dalton Risner, center Connor McGovern and right guard Ron Leary all had last Wednesday off as they nursed various injuries. All three ended up playing on Sunday against the Bills, but it was clear that they were not at full strength.
On Monday, coach Fangio commented on how the trio was doing after the physical game against the Bills.
“Pretty good. No worse than they were. Obviously, it affected them a little bit. They’re sore today, but they’re not worse than they were last week at this time,” Fangio said.
The Broncos offensive line needs to be healthy if they’re going to replace Bolles at left tackle. In fact, Bolles might have been benched last year had it not been for an injury to Leary. That injury meant the Broncos had to put Elijah Wilkinson in the starting lineup at guard instead of benching Bolles and playing Wilkinson at tackle.
Ja’Wuan James Status
The Broncos made a big splash in free agency earlier this year when they made Ja’Wuan James the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL. They signed James to a four-year, $51 million contract with $32 million guaranteed and an average annual salary of $12.75 million. At the time, I said that James was overpaid as a right tackle, but if he was moved to left tackle the Broncos actually got a bargain.
Well, James hasn’t been able to hardly play at all in the 2019 season. In the first game of the year, James injured his knee after only 10 snaps and was out of action until Week 8. In that game against the Colts, James only played 22 snaps before he was once again too injured to play.
Since that time, James has been working to get himself back on the field for the Broncos. Fangio told the media on Monday that the holdup for James has nothing to do with his physical health status entering Week 13.
“He’s just got to have confidence that he can go out there and play with his knee and coming off the injury. I don’t think he had that the last time he tried to play when he came back. He was fine physically, but I don’t think he in his own mind was comfortable and confident,” Fangio said.
James needs to be emotionally and mentally ready to play if the team is going to replace Bolles. Fangio said on Monday that James is physically ready, so the team needs to ramp up his confidence in any way possible so they can start getting a return on their investment. Once James is ready to go, we could see him replace Bolles as the starting left tackle – something Broncos fans have been waiting for.
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