Billy Turner was the free-agent signing destined to fix the Denver Broncos’ long-standing woes at the right tackle position. The Broncos have struggled to find a solid right tackle since Orlando Franklin left via free agency after the 2014 season.
Unfortunately, Turner is yet to take the field, and that once-projected fix to the Broncos' offensive line has yet to materialize. At the pace he's on, it may never come to fruition. It's safe to say that the coaching staff’s approach to Turner's injury and roster status has been mishandled.
Failure to Leverage PUP
Turner started the offseason on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. He should have stayed on that list into the regular season. Being on the PUP list has its downsides, but in the case of Turner, the pros outweigh the cons.
The NFL changed the PUP list rules for the 2022 season, making it much more team-friendly. Upon entering the season on the list, a player only has to remain on it for four weeks. After the fourth game, the player is eligible for activation and can start practicing immediately.
In the years prior that rule change, the wait was six weeks into the season. An additional two weeks doesn’t seem like much, but two additional games and weeks of not playing football.
Those two weeks made it more difficult for players to get in football shape and, therefore would increase the practice time required for that player to return to the field. In years past, a player would miss nearly half the season by starting on the PUP list.
With the wait being only four weeks, it speeds up the entire process, and many players who have been on the PUP list will see the field for the fifth game of the season in 2022. That's a significant advantage to teams on gameday and in making roster decisions.
The biggest issue with having a player on the PUP list is that he cannot practice. This can easily lead to falling behind and, in the case of the offensive line, can stunt the growth of the much-needed timing required to function as a unit.
Looking at the Turner situation, even when he was activated from the PUP in training camp, he didn't practice with the offensive line in scrimmages until the very last week of preseason. That practice was still on a very limited and sporadic basis.
Advantages of PUP
The advantage of starting a player on the PUP list through camp and into the regular season is that he doesn’t count against a team's 53-man roster until he is activated. Activating Turner from the PUP list in camp eliminated that benefit for the Broncos, making it the roster decisions on the final cut-down day even more complex.
If Turner was on the PUP, the Broncos could have kept someone like WR Seth Williams on the roster, who had a great preseason, but was cut due to Tyrie Cleveland being a better special teams player. With the struggles the Broncos have had with their passing game and injuries to the receiving corps, it might have been advantageous to have a big, physical wide receiver of Williams' stature for Russell Wilson to target.
Instead, that spot was taken by Turner, who is still practicing on a limited basis and has not once been active on the game-day roster. Practicing on a limited basis means that Turner has not participated in 100% of what would be deemed his typical practice time.
No Time to Gel
Based on the observable practices in the past, that means Turner hasn’t taken many snaps with the Broncos' starting offense and therefore has yet to develop the timing and communication that is required for efficient O-line play. His time on the roster has not been a major benefit to the Broncos' offensive line or his progress.
It also has limited the Broncos' ability to make an additional move on gameday, such as calling up an additional practice squad player.
The Broncos' medical staff has nursed Turner's injury along with caution, which caused a ripple effect through the roster. If the team keeps nursing it along, fans may not see Turner in the Orange and Blue on gameday because he only signed a one-year contract worth $2.5 million.
To add insult to injury, the player who got most of the repetitions in Turner’s absence this offseason and training camp was Calvin Anderson, who the team moved to left tackle (Garett Bolles' backup) right before the start of the season. It's no surprise that the Broncos' offensive line has had some struggles on game day.
This Sunday will mark the fourth game of the season, and eligible PUP players will be returning to team practices immediately. Turner has already been ruled out of Sunday's tilt at the Las Vegas Raiders, as he has missed the three prior.
Turner should have been kept on the PUP list and activated after this Sunday’s game. It would have opened his spot for another player who could actually contribute on game day and allowed him a chance to heal.
It may have also forced the Broncos' coaching staff to give Cam Fleming more meaningful reps in practice throughout camp and preseason. If Turner continues to miss games past Week 5, then his situation will move from mishandled to gross incompetence.
Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL.
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