Broncos searching for ‘best five,’ more consistency on OL in wake of Garett Bolles injury


Plug and play or shuffle the deck?

That is the question facing the Broncos on the offensive line over this mini-bye week as a combination of injuries and potential returns complicate a picture that hasn’t been particularly rosy in the first place.

The central part of the decision in front of head coach Nathaniel Hackett and offensive line coach Butch Barry centers on what to do at left tackle after losing Garett Bolles for the rest of the season to a broken right leg.

“We’re going to need all those offensive linemen,” Hackett said Tuesday. “Somehow, someway, they all have to be ready to go. We’re going to work through that and try to get the best five out there that we can.”

Denver at this point will not play a single snap in 2022 with what it considered to be its preferred starting group of Bolles, left guard Dalton Risner, center Lloyd Cushenberry, right guard Quinn Meinerz and right tackle Billy Turner. Meinerz and Turner have combined for just 18 snaps so far this season due to injuries – Turner has not yet played after offseason knee surgery – and now Bolles is lost for the year.

“We know that he’s going to (come back) strong from it,” Risner said of Bolles. “We’re going to be there for his family and we’re going to be there for him. That’s what we do.”

That pair had started 48 of 54 games next to each other since the beginning of the 2019 season but Risner will have a new neighbor on the left side of the Denver line going forward. Who will it be? The easy answer is to plug in Calvin Anderson at left tackle. The fourth-year man played the final 13 snaps this past Thursday against the Colts after Bolles’ injury.

“I’m very comfortable playing next to Calvin,” Risner said. “He’s a great football player, he’s got great focus. He’s hungry for it, he wants to be great and he’s been that way all year. He’s just been waiting for his opportunity all year and I don’t think that we’re going to skip a beat.”

There are other factors at play aside from just Bolles’ injury, though. Turner was active against Indianapolis and appears to be nearing a return. At the season’s outset, the plan for the ninth-year lineman, who spent the past three seasons in Green Bay, was to plug him in at right tackle. Through five games, that job has belonged to Cam Fleming.

“(Turner)’s been around the NFL for a long, long time and he’s played against almost every guy we’re going to be going against,” Risner said. “He understands this scheme. Hackett and (offensive coordinator Justin) Outten came from Green Bay. … He understands what they want and understands what they need.”

Turner could still take over at right tackle, but who plays right guard remains a question. Quinn Meinerz handled the first 18 snaps of the season but dropped out of the opener against Seattle with a hamstring injury and remains out. Though he did side-field conditioning work during the open portion of Tuesday’s practice, his status for Monday’s against the Chargers will be unclear until later in the week.

If Turner is ready to return and Meinerz is not, one option is to start Turner at right guard over Graham Glasgow and keep Fleming at tackle, then transition to Denver’s preferred preseason guard-tackle alignment of Meinerz and Turner when both are ready.

Or, if Denver ultimately decides that Turner and Fleming playing tackle gets the team its best five on the field, perhaps Turner kicks out to the left side while Meinerz and Fleming go forward as the right-side pair.


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