Dalton Risner Vouches that Broncos Will get a 'Whole New Garett Bolles' in 2020
The Denver Broncos offensive line suddenly found itself on shaky ground this week when starting right tackle Ja'Wuan James opted out of the 2020 season. Before James made his fateful decision, the general view of the Broncos O-line was that it had the chance to be an above-average unit in 2020 with the additions made via free agency and the draft and the expected development of left guard Dalton Risner.
There was also the added optimism that the days of left tackle Garett Bolles being a recidivist penalty magnet were in the rear-view mirror. Bolles showed dramatically improved play down the stretch last season when Drew Lock was inserted at quarterback. Although the Broncos did not exercise Bolles' fifth-year option, the quiet optimism that he finally turned the corner last year hasn't been diminished by James' opt-out.
Bolles has received modest praise from Head Coach Vic Fangio for the hard work he's put in this offseason to sustain that momentum. Fangio admitted that the left tackle job, which was originally going to be battled for openly between Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson, is Bolles' "job to lose."
On Thursday, Risner addressed local media during a virtual presser and it didn't take long for the topic of Bolles to be broached. Risner shared his outlook on Bolles for 2020 and exposed what could be the fourth-year tackle's not-so-secret weapon.
“I think Garett has worked extremely hard. Him playing better at the end of the season is a testament to his hard work," Risner said via Zoom presser. "I think something that people need to remember is Mike Munchak. That’s a factor that we need to remember. That guy is a Hall of Famer and he has a Gold Jacket. He’s probably going to have two Gold Jackets before he’s done with football. I truly believe with the way Coach Munchak coaches, it’s perfect for Garett. He’s going to call Garrett out when he needs to be called out, he’s going to uplift Garett when he needs uplifting and he’s going to teach Garett. He knows how to teach the game because he’s done it."
Not known for necessarily possessing a sterling work ethic, it's interesting that both coaches and players are talking about that attribute with regard to Bolles. Perhaps the message the Broncos sent by not picking up his fifth-year option resounded loud and clear between Bolles' ears.
Suddenly entering a contract year, perhaps Bolles chose to really dig deep and attack this offseason, utilizing the momentum he built up in the second half of last season as a springboard. If that's the case, it bodes well for his 2020 prospects and improves the probability that last year's emergence wasn't an outlier.
Fans and media alike might have set expectations for Munchak a little bit higher than were reasonable last year. As the third O-Line Coach Bolles had had in as many years, Munchak entered the equation in Denver last year and it took time for his influence on Bolles to come out in the wash.
The first half of the season, Bolles was his usual self, drawing face-palming holding penalties at inopportune points in the game. It seemed at the time that Bolles was never going to 'get it' and turn that corner. But Coach Munchak kept working on him and as Risner explained, called Bolles out when he needed to, while encouraging and supporting him.
"I think Garett has worked extremely hard and Garett has a great work ethic," Risner said. "He continues to work hard. He’s got a passion for the game, and I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Garett. I love that man, but I also think Mike Munchak helps him a ton. The more he gets time with Coach Munchak, the better player he’s going to be. You will probably see a whole new Garrett Bolles this year. A lot more of what you saw the last five games of the season.”
Now that is a bold prediction; a whole new Garett Bolles. Fans are hopeful that it shakes out that way because with James begging off, the Broncos don't have the depth waiting in the wings to take over at both right and left tackle, if a change at left tackle were to be made.
The one thing his critics can't take away from Bolles is the fact that he's always been available for the Broncos. He's never missed a game, starting all 48 possible games as a pro since arriving as a first-round pick back in 2017.
Many attribute Bolles' sudden improvement late last year to Coach Munchak and the influence of Lock, and rightfully so, but the component that gets oft-overlooked is Risner's impact. Bolles and Risner became fast friends when the Broncos drafted Risner in the second round in the spring of 2019.
Bolles attended Risner's post-draft celebration party in Denver and even stayed late afterward to help clean up. That allowed the two to get off on the right foot and they've since developed a strong brotherly bond.
That bond is very much a big brother/little brother type connection, and despite Bolles being older than Risner and more experienced, it's actually the other way around. Risner serves as that role model Bolles can look up to and lean on and having him start all 16 games next to him last year at left guard had a galvanizing effect on Bolles, too.
The two trenchmen forged a bond and a chemistry that eventually helped Bolles improve late in the season, even as Risner himself was struggling with a nagging lower-leg injury that sapped him of some of his strength and power.
"With Garett being on the left side, I feel like I provided him with some leadership and I think he would say that, too," Risner said on Thursday.
The good news for Bolles is that the triumvirate of positive influences that helped elevate him last year are all returning in 2020. For the first time in his career, Bolles will have the same O-line Coach in consecutive years, and with Munchak returning, along with Lock at quarterback, and Risner at left guard (for now), the left tackle has every asset he needs to ensure that last year's improvements were more than a flash in the pan.