Dalton Risner Shares Thoughts on Prospect of Moving to Right Tackle
With starting right tackle Ja'Wuan James opting out of the 2020 NFL season, the Denver Broncos are left searching for answers at one of the most important positions on the offensive line.
For now, and much like last year, the job has seemingly been handed to Elijah Wilkinson, for better or for worse. Wilkinson — a natural guard — had a roller-coaster 2019 campaign, giving up 10 sacks off of the right side.
Jake Rodgers, Quinn Bailey, and possibly undrafted rookie Hunter Watts will be considered in a camp competition, but in an offseason, that's been far from normal, Denver may be better off moving forward with 'the devil they know', rather than the one they don't.
KUSA's Mike Klis reported that GM John Elway may tap into the offensive tackle market via trade, but options as of this post are limited, as are the options in free agency. Even though there are a couple of guys that could fill the void immediately, Denver may want to hold onto its remaining salary cap space to roll over into next year.
However, there is another option in-house that may be able to get the job done, even though it may upset the apple cart along the interior of the offensive line; 2019 starting left guard — and former Kansas State starting right tackle — Dalton Risner.
After Thursday's training camp session, Risner took part in a virtual press conference and was immediately asked about the potential of him making the jump to right tackle.
“I think it’s next man up when you’re in the NFL," Risner said. "We can only have a certain number of active guys. I believe this year it’s about eight, right? We can have about eight active offensive linemen if I know right. Maybe seven, unless that’s changed a little bit. Whenever you’re playing seven or eight guys, you’ve got to be able to play multiple positions. I know [Offensive Line] Coach [Mike] Munchak expects me to be able to hop in at center at any point, hop in at tackle at any point, and there’s multiple guys that play different positions across the O-line."
While one might scoff at the idea of moving a player with All-Pro potential away from his original position, thus creating a new hole that needs to be filled, this wouldn't be such a major change for Risner.
A three-year starter at right tackle for the Wildcats, Risner is plenty capable of switching back to his natural position. In fact, he relishes that opportunity.
Risner knows that if his name gets called, he needs to be ready to do whatever is asked of him. He even goes so far to make sure he gets extra reps whenever he isn't on the field.
"One thing for me, just from my perspective, whether I hear it from a coach, or I don’t, I’m always going to make sure that I feel like I’m ready for me to hop in," the second-year pro explained.
"For a tackle, you’ve got to learn that it’s kick sliding. You’re dealing with guys like [OLB] Von Miller and [OLB] Bradley Chubb and [NT] Mike Purcell and [DL] Jurrell Casey. It’s a completely different type and style of play. Right now, I wish I could be getting extra reps in one-on-ones at tackle or in individual drills, but we’re not in that phase yet. Right now, all we are doing are walk throughs. For right now, it’s as much as, ‘Hey, when I’m done, I’m going to get five kick slides left and I’m going to get five kick slides right.’"
It may be an unpopular opinion, but moving Risner to tackle might be the best way for the Broncos to get their best starting five on the field in the way that all of them will be the most comfortable.
Yes, Risner was a rookie phenom in 2019 that bullied his way into highlight tapes at times, including bulldozing Phillip Lindsay into the end zone for a touchdown at Green Bay.
But with the struggles that Wilkinson had at right tackle last season, playing both Risner and Wilkinson at their more natural positions could prove to be an efficient and cohesive unit.
Whenever a team loses a starter for whatever reason, it haa to adapt and overcome in whatever way to help the team the most. Although Risner doesn't have any NFL experience playing on the outside, his tape at Kansas State was good enough to warrant a shot. After all, he was a second-round selection last year based on that tape — at right tackle.
Really, it boils down to what Munchak has in mind for his unit. As Risner said, versatility among the active players on gameday is a huge key to the line's success. Not only has he been working on his kick slides, he's been studying the subtle nuances to playing the center position as well; identifying the "Mike" linebacker, calling protections, working communication with his linemates, and of course, the footwork on a daily basis.
Wherever Munchak wants him to play, Risner is going to be ready.
"Obviously, that [technique] will tone up if Munchak ever comes to me and says, ‘Dalton, I need you to start working at tackle. There’s a good chance you go there. Dalton, I need you to go to center because you might be going there.’ I would definitely tone it up and do more, but I try to stay up-to-date with both positions.”
It'll be interesting to see how this all shakes out as training camp progresses, but after watching Wilkinson struggle mightily at tackle last season, I'm all for giving Risner a chance this year.