Football games are won and lost inside the trenches, and the Denver Broncos hope they can turn things around in that department this upcoming season. With training camp approaching, the Broncos’ interior offensive line has to be better this season.

Will Ben Powers and Quinn Meinerz emerge as top guard duo for the Denver Broncos?

Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton values winning in the trenches with his offensive line units. This has been a staple for him throughout his career as a head coach, and he’ll look to make that the case with the Broncos this upcoming season.

One of the Broncos’ first major moves of NFL Free Agency involved Denver signing former Baltimore Ravens offensive guard Ben Powers a four-year $51.5M deal. Powers was recognized as one of the NFL’s top interior offensive linemen available in free agency, and Denver wasted no time pursuing him. When putting on the tape, Powers isn’t the fastest offensive lineman in the league, but you can argue that he’s one of the most technically refined.

Powers takes smart angles that allow him to gain leverage in the second level against linebackers, whether in pass protection or pulling to open up running lanes. Coming over from an offense that was highly productive in the ground game with Lamar Jackson and the various backs they utilized, Powers replaces Dalton Risner as the team looks to improve their production on the interior.

His size stood out during organized team activities, even without pads on. Pairing him opposite Quinn Meinerz is worth watching this upcoming season and in training camp. If Payton’s offense takes off, there’s optimism that Powers and Meinerz’s contributions will be significant.

Meinerz emerged last season as the Broncos’ top offensive lineman — like Powers, he’s also technically refined. It also appears that Meinerz bulked up some this offseason compared to last year, where he leaned out to adapt to Nathaniel Hackett’s outside zone scheme. Unfortunately, Meinerz dealt with a few injuries last season and missed some time, but it was a clear difference in how much better the offense was with him in the lineup than without him.

If they mesh well with new offensive line coach Zach Strief, they could help accelerate the Broncos’ perceived trajectory inside of Payton’s offense.

All eyes are on Lloyd Cushenberry at the center position

The Denver Broncos hope Lloyd Cushenberry can thrive inside Payton’s offense as he looks to earn a potential contract extension. Cushenberry is entering the final year of his deal with the team, and all signs point to him being the starting center this upcoming season.

He’s started every game he’s played for the Broncos and will get every opportunity to solidify himself as the guy from now on. Throughout his Broncos tenure, Cushenberry has faced competition for the job nearly every offseason. This year, he’ll face some competition from a rookie, a second-year player, and a veteran offensive lineman.

Unfortunately for Cushenberry last season, he suffered a groin injury prior to the team’s bye week. He was placed on injured reserve and didn’t return for the remainder of the season. Earlier this offseason, Payton noted at the NFL annual meeting that Cushenberry is perceived to be the starter at the position.

The issue for the Broncos’ fourth-year center has stemmed from being outmatched physically. While observing him this offseason, Cushenberry looks noticeably bigger in his upper body, which could be a promising sign if he can carry that growth factor into being more physical with opposing defensive linemen. Another issue contributing to Denver’s interior offensive line struggles is miscommunication errors across the starting lineup.

If a guard and tackle are not on the same page communication-wise, it impacts the entire operation. If a center and guard aren’t on the same page, it also impacts how the offense works. Over the last three seasons, too many issues like that have impacted the offense’s ability to sustain drives.

With Payton taking over as the head coach, his process will require eliminating self-inflicted mistakes during a drive or play and looking to establish consistency with the offensive line. If Cushenberry pieces everything together and finds consistency, he’ll help the Broncos’ offensive line perform at a higher level.

What does the Denver Broncos depth look like on the interior?

With Ben Powers, Lloyd Cushenberry, and Quinn Meinerz projected to be the offensive guard and center starters, the depth options behind them feature several players who could be under-the-radar candidates to watch for during the NFL Preseason.

At guard, players like Will Sherman and Henry Byrd make up some of the depth at the position. The Denver Broncos also feature several players who are listed as centers who have positional flex versatility to play guard as well. Those players are Alex Forsyth, Kyle Fuller, and Luke Wattenberg.

Sherman spent time on the Broncos practice squad last season and has appeared in one career NFL game as a member of the New England Patriots. At 6’4, 310lbs, he has the size to plug in as a guard inside of Payton’s offense. The local CU Buffs product will get plenty of run during training camp and the preseason in hopes of solidifying himself a spot on the roster as one of the key depth pieces behind the starters.

Byrd joins the Broncos as an undrafted rookie free agent from Princeton. He also possesses impressive size at 6’5 and 310 lbs. As it currently stands, the Broncos have Forsyth, Fuller, and Wattenberg listed as potential options at center. Still, it doesn’t make much sense for them to have four players competing at that position going into training camp.

A more realistic scenario includes Fuller and Wattenberg getting projected snaps during training camp at guard and center with Denver’s various offensive units with their 90-man roster. When thrust into the lineup due to an injury to Graham Glasgow midgame, Wattenberg struggled at the center position. Despite his struggles at center, he received an opportunity to play offensive guard when veteran Tom Compton was injured during the course of another game and looked solid.

His sample size is small, but it’s worth monitoring for training camp. In the seventh round of this year’s draft, the Broncos selected Forsyth from the University of Oregon. He’s in the mix to compete for the center job but could be somebody the team stores as Cushenberry’s backup with an emphasis on developing if things don’t pan out with the Broncos’ former third-round draft pick.

If Forsyth has an impressive preseason campaign, he will likely solidify himself as the true backup for the position unless he blows the Broncos away and earns a starting spot.

Denver Broncos interior offensive line overview

Quinn Meinerz, Ben Powers, Hunter Byrd, and Will Sherman make up the team’s depth at the offensive guard position.

Lloyd Cushenberry, Alex Forsyth, Luke Wattenberg, and Kyle Fuller make up the team’s depth at the center position.

Storylines to watch

  • Can Ben Powers and Quinn Meinerz emerge as one of the league’s top guard duos?
  • Will Lloyd Cushenberry solidify himself as the Broncos’ best long-term option at center?
  • Can players like Luke Wattenberg and Will Sherman emerge as key developmental options on the offensive interior?

What’s next?
Denver Broncos training camp starts on July 28 at the Centura Health Training Center.