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Can Garett Bolles perform like Top 15 tackle? Broncos need him to be solid

Bolles made All-Pro in 2020, but failed to achieve elite status last season
Garett Bolles
Posted at 3:48 PM, Jul 15, 2022

DENVER — Garrett Bolles brings a bunker mentality to his job. He remains someone you want on your side, more loyal than a Labrador Retriever and more driven to protect than Kevin Costner in "The Bodyguard."

When last season ended, Bolles believed there would be change, reminding reporters in the spring after the overhaul. "I told you."

The makeover features an interesting blend of uncertainty and benefits for Bolles. He developed into a second-team All-Pro in 2020 under former line coach Mike Munchak, resurrecting his career from being the target of boos to landing a four-year, $68-million contract extension with $38 million guaranteed.

Munchak is gone. Butch Barry replaced him and is teaching the outside zone run scheme. This represents Bolles' fifth line coach in six seasons.

He has also had 11 different starting quarterbacks during that time. There are no "American Idol" auditions at quarterback this summer. No even-Steven. No shared reps.

Russell Wilson, a nine-time Pro Bowler, is central to everything the Broncos will do this season. His constant presence should help Bolles.

"Consistency. I think that is what I needed. Like I said, (it is better) when I can control what I can control, which is making myself compete at a high level (while) being mature about it, focused and being detail oriented. I think that it starts with me, with the guys up front. Guys look at me, and I have to do my job," Bolles said.

From leading the team in penalties to team leader? Few Broncos in history have made such dramatic improvement. Can Bolles reclaim his spot among the game's top tackles?

As part of my Denver7 storylines entering training camp on July 27, I examine Bolles' role. Simply put, the Broncos have questions about their offensive line. Bolles cannot be one of them.

Talent suggests he won't be. However, it is more layered with Bolles. Can he find a fit with Barry? Will he adjust to the new blocking scheme?

Bolles reached the zenith of his career in 2020 as a force in the run and pass game. To be fair, there were no crowds during the COVID-19 season, and the NFL decided not to call holding. Bolles' technique improved, too. Last year, he failed to reach the same level of excellence, and it was reflected in an ESPN poll released Friday.

ESPN surveyed 50 executives, coaches, scouts and players to rank the top players at each position.

The Broncos have shown up well — Justin Simmons (top safety), Pat Surtain (No. 7 cornerback), Wilson (eighth QB), Javonte Williams (10th runningback), and D.J. Jones (13th interior defensive lineman). But, it also exposed areas where they need better: no Broncos appeared at receiver, interior offensive line, off-ball linebacker, edge rusher or tackle.

There were 22 names mentioned at tackle, counting honorable mention and those receiving votes. Bolles was not among them. I would rank him 15th, but I understand how the first three years of his career are hard for talent evaluators to forget after Bolles led his position in penalties.

Pro Football Focus, which does exhaustive research, but doesn't not know the assignments on plays, views Bolles similarly. He ranked 24th among all tackles last year. There's no grudge here. They placed Bolles third at his position following the 2020 season, rating him as the most improved lineman in the league. And they ranked him seventh overall entering last season.

Here's the reality: Bolles' probably won't match his 2020 season again, but he needs to reside in the top 15. In other words, he must play with discipline, solid fundamentals and be a worry-free player.

There are too many other questions. Will Dalton Risner take a step forward after plateauing last season? Can Lloyd Cushenberry benefit from a scheme that relies more athleticism than brute strength and take a giant step forward? Will Graham Glasgow challenge for that job during the season? And will Netane Muti or Glasgow push for playing time at right guard where Quinn Meinerz is the front-runner to start?

Let's not forget Wilson turns 34 in November, and has averaged 43 sacks per season, including a league-high 48 in 2019. As he begins to play with a more cerebral tilt in the future, Wilson figures to scramble less. And in coach Nathaniel Hackett's offense, the ball should come out of his hands more quickly, at least eventually, as Wilson resists the temptation to hang in there on deep throws.

That said, Wilson requires a solid offensive line if he's to revive a franchise that has missed the playoffs six consecutive seasons and posted five straight losing years for the first time since 1963-72.

And it starts with Bolles.

"When I do my job, everyone else plays better. It gives ‘3’ (Wilson) enough time to be back there and to fire to our star receivers or get the ball to our running backs. Consistency is a huge thing for us," Bolles said. "The more consistency we have, the better we will be down the road.”