Improved Bolles leads Broncos’ patchwork O-line

Sep 23, 2018; Baltimore, MD, USA; Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) walks down the sidelines before the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Second-year starting left tackle Garett Bolles has been a riddle wrapped in an enigma for the Broncos since arriving in Denver as their first-round draft pick in 2017. Bolles, a remarkable physical specimen, immediately claimed the starting job and hasn’t missed a game for the team since. He blocks like a bulldozer… as long as he can stay in front of his man, at least.

Bolles slow backpedal and questionable footwork cause him problems against talented edge rushers, and he led the entire NFL in holding penalties last season, causing consternation among the Broncos’ faithful regarding the Utah product’s long-term outlook.

However, since the Broncos’ offensive line suffered a series of devastating injuries, Bolles has stepped up his game substantially.

Center Matt Paradis (broken right fibula), left guard Ron Leary (torn Achilles tendon), and right guard Max Garcia (torn ACL) have all been lost for the season, leaving Bolles – amazingly – as the most senior member of the Broncos patchwork offensive line.

When the Broncos defeated the Bengals on Sunday to extend the team’s winning streak to a season-long three games, the team started Bolles at his usual left tackle position, backup tackle Billy Turner at left guard, backup right guard Connor McGovern at center, backup tackle Elijah Wilkinson at right guard and free-agent acquisition Jared Veldheer at right tackle – only Bolles and Veldheer played in their usual roles for the second week in a row, and Bolles once again stood out.

According to Pro Football Focus, Bolles has been among the Broncos’ top-five offensive players, regardless of position, over the team’s three-game winning streak, and his consistency has accelerated improvement in the Broncos’ offense, especially in the league’s most-surprising run game.

The makeshift line was effective again against the Bengals, like they were in wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Chargers before them – and Bolles, despite the additional pressure, has played as well as he as at any point in his career.