Of the problems that the Denver Broncos had in 2016, perhaps the biggest one existed within their offensive line.
Shoddy offensive line play made doing anything with the football difficult for the Broncos in 2016. The 41 sacks that they allowed were tied for the eighth most allowed in the NFL in 2016 and contributed to Denver’s No 21 ranked passing offense.
Recognizing the problem, the Broncos made an effort to correct it in the offseason by adding offensive linemen Ronald Leary and Menelik Watson in free agency, and using their first round pick to select Garett Bolles.
Now that they’ve reloaded with offensive linemen, the hard part is figuring out where to put everyone. Head coach Vance Joseph used the Broncos’ spring workouts to see which combinations worked, and which didn’t.
“It’s really about the best overall fit,” Joseph said. “The best offensive lines play well together. It’s not having five Pro Bowl players, it’s about having five guys that play well together and guys that are tough and smart.”
After a month of spring workouts, Joseph believes he’s figured out part of the puzzle that is the Broncos’ offensive line. Part of the shuffling has landed Leary, who played primarily at left guard for the Dallas Cowboys, at right guard and placing Max Garcia on the left side.
“Max’s best position is left guard, so for us to be the best offensive line we can, Max has got to be the best left guard he can,” Joseph said of the change. “Ronald being a veteran player, he had no problem going to right.”
The problems with the offensive line didn’t just hurt the Broncos’ passing offense, it hurt their rushing offense as well. They ranked 27th in rushing offense in 2016. While Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch duke it out for the starting quarterback job, Joseph knows that it’s not going to matter who is back there if the problems with the offensive line aren’t corrected come fall.
“Until we protect better and run the football better, it won’t matter who the quarterbacks are,” Joseph said. “Those two things have to happen first. We do that, whoever plays is going to have success.”
One of the bright spots of the offensive line through the spring was the strength of the newly established right side.
“With that being said, with Leary and Watson on the right side, that’s two big men,” Joseph said. “Along with [TE] Virgil [Green] as a blocking tight end, that’s going to be formidable.”
While the right side is all but set, there is still some work to do to establish the left side of the line. Bolles and third-year tackle Ty Sambrailo split time at left tackle throughout the spring.
Joseph was pleased with the progress that Bolles made throughout the spring.
“He’s made a lot of progress,” Joseph said. “It’s a tough spot to play as a rookie, and it takes a lot of football IQ to play that spot in the NFL. When he knows what to do, he can block his guy.”
While the newly formed offensive line has impressed Joseph, he doesn’t believe that the right combination has come together just yet.
“That’s a tough question,” Joseph said. “We’re still figuring it out. Ty [Sambrailo] has played well, [G] Billy Turner has had a hell of a spring, [G/C Connor] McGovern has had a hell of a spring, and [C] Matt [Paradis] is not back yet.”
The way he looks at it, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“That’s a tough question to answer, but in my opinion it’s a good thing because it provides depth.”