After Ja'Wuan James went down with a torn Achilles, the Denver Broncos had to scramble to add some veteran depth at right tackle. Though it had been suggested by ubiquitous fan theories that starting left guard Dalton Risner should slide over to right tackle, the idea was firmly squashed as the Broncos signed former Chicago Bears tackle Bobby Massie and added some insurance by acquiring veteran Cam Fleming.
The Broncos released James in May and Massie is the early leader in the clubhouse to win his job on the basis of his 112 games started when compared to Fleming’s lesser total of 42. Perhaps, more crucially, it gives O-line coach Mike Munchak a potential solution to what has been a thorny problem and one to which he acknowledged during a recent interview with Ryan O’Halloran of The Denver Post.
“That spot, since I’ve been here, we’ve been playing a lot of people and it (James’ injury) was unfortunate because it was after the draft,” Munchak told O'Halloran. “We were fortunate to have a guy of (Massie’s) caliber available.”
Munchak was enthused by Massie's NFL body entering his age-32 season and sees some big things on the horizon.
“For a guy going into his 10th year, he’s still in very good shape, is big (6-foot-6/325 pounds), is long and I still think he has a lot of football ahead of him,” Munchak said.
Massie impressed the Broncos by shutting down Von Miller when the Bears arrived for a Week 2 matchup at Mile High in 2019, per O'Halloran. Massie relinquished zero QB pressures to Miller that day. When Massie hit the free-agent market suddenly, the Broncos saw a great opportunity to bring that caliber of tackle to the O-line.
One general criticism that was levied towards the first draft class of new GM George Paton was that he made no contingency plans at right tackle, especially considering the fragility of James' body and mind. As luck may have it, the unexpected depth of available free-agent retreads, and the stability they hopefully provide, could help a starter like Risner reach a higher level as a result.
Risner was recently tapped as one of Pro Football Focus' breakout candidates of 2021. Having started all 32 games over his first two years in the NFL, Risner has proven his durability and toughness.
Entering Year 3, though, if Risner's anticipated leap forward happens, it might owe much to the Broncos finding some answers to the troubled right tackle spot.
That being said, just managing to build on his previous body of work is something Risner is focused on moving forward. We've heard him say many times that he's not content with just having 16 starts in a season; he expects the Pro Bowl and All-Pro accolades.
“I’m never going to be happy with where I’m at. I’m always going to want more,” Risner said during this summer's workouts. “I think that’s what makes great players and that makes great teams. I’m happy with what I did last year. I’m not going to say I’m ecstatic. I don’t think I will ever tell you guys that. But I made some strides in a lot of areas, and I’m always looking to improve.”
Follow Keith on Twitter @KeithC_NFL.
Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!