Denver Broncos' swing offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson now has the opportunity to become a full-time starter. For several seasons, GM John Elway has struggled to permanently solidify the left side of what has been a largely sub-par offensive line.
Earlier this offseason, Wilkinson — a former undrafted O-lineman from UMass — was told he would be given his chance to compete for a starting job at left tackle in direct conflict with the incumbent Garett Bolles.
Since joining the Broncos in 2017, the 25-year-old blocker has worked his way up from the practice roster and even started 12 games last season due to the absence of the prized free-agent signing, but frequently injured, Ja’Wuan James at right tackle.
Wilkinson appeared on 104.3 The FAN's Nick and Cecil show to discuss how much he is relishing having to play only one position after being a jack of all trades with the Broncos to date.
“I think finally they kind of found a place for me. Or think I can do a certain position better than others,” Wilkinson told hosts Nick Ferguson and Cecil. “That kind of gives me a little bit of resting easy, a little bit, knowing that I might be in one position and not four throughout the whole season.”
Wilkinson has clearly found it unsettling to be shifted around the offensive line, being primarily used to plug gaps when they've opened up. Perhaps it was a passive vote of confidence in his ability to slide over to the left side and compete for the starter’s role when Elway decided against drafting a tackle at any point during the 2020 draft process.
During free agency, Elway also opted to reinforce the interior O-Line by signing Graham Glasgow (ex-Detroit Lions) to a lucrative multi-year deal. This high-priced move most likely busted the budget for a veteran insurance policy at left tackle and all thoughts of moving Wilkinson inside to compete at guard were subsequently scrapped.
It’s a switch that will suit the 6-foot-6, 329-pound blocker well as it provides him with a genuine opportunity at becoming a full-time NFL starter. However, it owes as much to the frustratingly inconsistent play of current option Bolles as it does Wilkinson’s previous performances.
The big Broncos No. 68 is now relishing the opportunity given to him to fight for the job when training camp rolls around at the end of July. However, he will be recovering from a foot procedure and is even now in a walking boot.
“I think that’s good, competition is good for everybody," Wilkinson told Ferguson and Lammey. "Like, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for it. I think it’s only going to bring the intensity, only bring the energy and everything of this training camp up you know another notch…you know what I mean?”
As Wilkinson settles into mastering the blindside position, it’s a huge leap to expect him to hold down the position and play to elite NFL level. Just like Bolles, Wilkinson struggled in pass protection on the right side when filling in for the injured James and did little to suggest he is the long-term answer, or even a sure-fire backup option.
In recent weeks, the constant chatter about free-agent LT Jason Peters has mostly died down, paving the way for Wilkinson to still compete for Bolles' job. That could rapidly change if the Broncos fail to see improvement from their two competing tackles in the early stages of training camp, especially if Peters remains available and lowers his asking price.
As it stands, the Broncos are prepared to field two players who are still in their developmental curve in an open battle for one of the most important positions on the football field but it’s a risk Elway is willing to take, at least for now. Wilkinson is fully aware that if he wins the job and plays well, he'll be in line for a big pay increase.
Playing on a one-year restricted free-agent tender worth $3.2 million, Wilkinson will make more money than he ever has in 2020. The subplots are intriguing in what will prove to be a very interesting training camp this summer in Englewood.