When Vance Joseph was hired a first-year head coach in January, his first order of business was forming his staff. His second was helping that staff design the team’s playbook and remake Broncos’ image that was somehow lost in their playoff-less season of 2016.
The redesign started up front. The Broncos’ biggest offensive weaknesses trickled down from the front five, hindering the run game and punishing the Broncos’ young quarterbacks.
Denver decided to let left tackle Russell Okung walk and accept a massive deal with the Los Angeles Chargers. Then it went shopping for pounds. The first addition was Ron Leary, a guard on the Cowboys’ league-leading offensive line last season whom Joseph believes was the best guard on the open market. Then they added tackle Menelik Watson, a relatively inexperienced behemoth of a man who suffered a string of injuries in four years at Oakland. Then the last big piece was first-round pick Garett Bolles, a tackle nabbed from a relatively weak o-line class in this year’s draft.
The reconfigured line is built to be bigger, stronger and meaner, and will likely play a mix of zone and power in offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s system.
But it’s in training camp where the pieces will be aligned and the true starters will be revealed. Will Bolles get the starting nod for Week 1 at left tackle? Is Watson indeed their guy on the right side? And will Matt Paradis, the Broncos’ cog in the middle, be healthy enough to be a full go by the opener after recovering from two hip surgeries?
Eyes may be on the quarterback battle, but the quarterback’s eyes and future depend on the line.
Projected Front Five
Garett Bolles, LT: The first-round rookie out of Utah progressed quickly in organized team activities and minicamp. “The ultimate issue is knowing what to do and how to do it, but he’s a first-round pick for a reason,” Joseph said. “He’s a talent.”
Max Garcia, LG: The third year of an NFL player’s career is always a big one. It’s even bigger for Garcia, who takes on a larger role with required flexibility. He may have to switch between right and left and the o-line may use both power and zone.
Matt Paradis, C: Paradis played every snap last season on two bad hips, but still graded out as the best center in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. He’s expected to resume on-field work in camp after recovering from surgery.
Ron Leary, RG: The Broncos need to better protect their quarterback and jumpstart their run game. Having a 6-foot-3, 320-pound experienced guard should help.
Menelik Watson, RT: The Broncos see potential in Watson — if he can stay healthy. The Manchester native has limited American football experience, but brings a grit and toughness John Elway sought in revamping the line. He also brings a 6-5, 315-pound frame.