SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Understanding left tackle Garett Bolles’ career requires patience and Dramamine. He has evolved from relentless criticism to a core player to a veteran trying to return from a gruesome leg injury.
In Week 5 last season against the Colts, Bolles had his lower right leg trapped from behind as he corkscrewed to the ground. He suffered a broken ankle and leg, sidelining him for the season. So, while Javonte Williams’ recovery demands attention as he returns from a torn right ACL, Bolles’ rebound against the San Francisco 49ers, a team he grew up rooting for as a child, remains noteworthy.
After struggling to find leverage in pass protection vs the Arizona Cardinals, Bolles demonstrated better consistency, matching that of the offensive line as a whole.
“For sure, man, we made some great improvement. But it’s just a stepping stone. You have to keep laying blocks down day in and day out,” said Bolles, whose contract runs through the 2024 season. “We are working on what we need to as a group and individually so Week 1 we have all the kinks out and are ready to get rockin’ and rollin’.”
Bolles, 31, starred during the 2020 COVID season, earning his big contract. He is seeking to regain that form and help the Broncos return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Coach Sean Payton explained that running will be part of “this team’s DNA.” It starts upfront with Bolles, Ben Powers, Lloyd Cushenberry, Quinn Meinerz and Mike McGlinchey, whose knee sprain is healing well, making it likely he will be ready for the season opener.
“Mentally, I feel great. Physically, I feel great. I think this is the best shape I have been in a long time. This was my second game back in 11 ½ months. So I have to dust off the wings,” Bolles said. “I’ve got great people around me and a great support team. I am grateful and love them for giving me a chance to come back and be myself.”
While Wilson was pressured on 64 percent of his throws in the exhibition opener in 20 plays, his protection improved as did his decisiveness when running in 12 snaps vs. the 49ers. He finished with 25 yards on three carries and would have finished with 41 if not for a holding penalty on Courtland Sutton. Wilson is 10-for-19 for 117 yards in 32 snaps, and not expected to play in the preseason finale on Saturday given the joint practices vs. the Rams on Wednesday and Thursday.
For Wilson to rebound, he must stay upright after absorbing an NFL-high 55 sacks last season.
“Garett Bolles is one of the best tackles in the game. He's so athletic. Him having that severe injury last year and then to come back the first time stepping back on the field. It's like taking that and understanding that this is a part of the process. And so, he took that huge step,” Wilson said of Bolles. “This week and over the past couple weeks in practice, he's looking great.”
The Broncos offense ranked dead last in points per game last season. Any chance of relevancy hinges on dramatic offensive improvement. Watching Wilson, Williams and Bolles this summer, optimism exists.
“It was great to see Javonte out there. We rehabbed together. To see him get touches and not miss a beat where he left off last year, that’s big time for us,” Bolles said. “We have to keep him healthy and No. 3 healthy, and we will have a good shot to get where we want to go.”
Defensive end Zach Allen admitted that he felt like “Bambi on ice” in his first preseason game against his former Arizona Cardinals team. Week 2 felt much more normal.
“It was definitely better. I wasn’t emotional. The players feel the same way (about the preseason games mattering). If there was a disconnect that would be an issue. But guys aren’t happy or taking anything lightly. We understand the importance of it all," Allen said.
Outside linebacker Randy Gregory logged 22 snaps vs. the 49ers. Frank Clark clocked in at 27. Clark seemed surprised by his workload, but Gregory was not. He wanted to grow the confidence in his surgically repaired knee.
“We talked about it. Normally we have four preseason games. Now, we have three. So, coming off the IR and still trying to get my legs under me, it was important for me to get those reps. I am sure a lot of people freaked out about the number of plays, but it was probably good. A lot of it is building the trust in the knee, doing the things I did when I got hurt, and I have done that. There are still parts I need to work on to get better, like staying low and really getting off the ball, but I feel good," Gregory said.
Wide receiver Jalen Virgil torn the MCL in his knee on his 50-yard pass reception. He was trending towards making the team as a reserve and special teamer, but now faces a lengthy absence.