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Garett Bolles #72 of the Denver Broncos after an NFL game against the Buffalo Bills on September 24, 2017 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Under Pressure: No Bronco is feeling the heat in 2020 more than Garett Bolles

(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

The Broncos have had a great offseason in 2020. They made some big moves in free agency, they added star talent via trades and then crushed the 2020 NFL Draft. This roster has been upgraded by a wide margin just based on the elite-level talent that has been added this calendar year.

In this new series, “Under Pressure,” I’ll look at some of the players who are most under pressure after the moves in free agency and the draft. The talent added to this roster is going to push some players – maybe even some fan favorites – off the roster.

Today, I’ll examine the situation surrounding Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles. Let’s see why he’s under pressure in 2020.

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Background

In the 2017 NFL Draft, we didn’t see an offensive tackle selected until the Broncos kicked things off by taking Garett Bolles out of Utah with the No. 20 overall pick. While in college, Bolles showed off trademark toughness and a no-nonsense attitude. In addition to that, Bolles played with great athleticism which was rare for a man his size.

The Broncos were running a zone-blocking system when Bolles was drafted and his athleticism made him a potentially good fit for the system if he progressed and cleaned up the problems with his game. Penalties were (and still are) the biggest problem for Bolles. He was the highest-penalized offensive tackle in college football for the 2016 season and that trend has followed him to the NFL.

Bolles has played 48 games in the NFL, and he’s been flagged 46 times including penalties that were declined. He has also led the NFL in holding penalties in each of his three pro seasons and has finished second, tied for fourth, and tied for second in penalties overall.

Why is Bolles under so much pressure? His play has been average at best, but the penalties have cost the Broncos games and are getting to finally be too much.

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The Pressure

Last year, the Broncos were going to use Elijah Wilkinson to push Bolles for the starting job. When right tackle Ja’Wuan James was banged up and lost for most of the season, however, Wilkinson could no longer compete for the left tackle spot. Instead, he started at right tackle and Bolles remained as the starter on the left side.

Before the draft, many people – including myself – expected the Broncos to address the left tackle position with a draft pick. In fact, I was not going to be surprised if the Broncos added a top-tier offensive tackle in the first round or at least a premium pick (first three rounds). Instead, the team went the entire draft without adding a single offensive tackle.

After the draft, Broncos general manager John Elway explained why the team is going to have an open competition at left tackle and why they didn’t select one in the draft.

“It’ll be an open competition at the left tackle with Eli (Wilkinson) and Bolles. We just didn’t feel like we were in a situation to where we could add to that. I think with where we were and what our game plan was, the tackle never fell for us as far as something we thought that there was a player there that could help us at that position. We still feel like we can be very competitive with the tackle situation that we have and the open competition. The best player is going to play,” Elway said.

Wilkinson is a good swing tackle and swing guard, but he has struggled starting at the right tackle position with the Broncos. Left tackle is generally considered more difficult to play due to the level of pass-rushers being better and the fact you’re defending a quarterback’s blind side. We’ll have to wait and see if Wilkinson can play better than Bolles in training camp and the preseason.

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What He Needs to Do

Bolles is always available, something the coaching staff has praised him for. Just being healthy enough to play isn’t going to cut it this year, though, and Bolles needs to make real improvements to his game. We saw him play better during the final five games of the 2019 regular season, something that coincided with Drew Lock starting at quarterback.

“One thing about Garett, he was available. He was there every play. I don’t think he missed a play this (past) year. We talked about availability; he was there. He got off to a slow start, but I think that he continued to get better and better and better as the year went on,” Elway said.

On Monday night’s edition of “Nick and Cecil,” we were joined by former first-round pick Ryan Clady. The last great left tackle this team had was Clady, so I had to ask him about his thoughts o Bolles and what he needs to do in order to improve his game.

Clady knows what it takes to play offensive tackle at a high level. His recommendation that Bolles needs to get better with his hands is incredibly astute. We’ll see if Bolles can improve that part of his game and reduce penalties in 2020.

“The hard thing is that Garett is under the microscope. He’s under the microscope and any time they say ‘72,’ it brings down the whole stadium. That happens. He got himself in that position, so we’ll continue working at it,” Elway said.

Bolles put himself in this pressure-packed 2020 season, the final year of his rookie contract. The Broncos chose not to pick up his fifth-year option, so Bolles is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2021. If he performs up to his potential, stays healthy and cuts down on the penalties then Bolles could be in for a big payday next offseason.