Elijah Wilkinson Explains his Surprise in Learning that Ja'Wuan James had Opted Out of 2020 Season
Elijah Wilkinson could be forgiven if he were to voice his dissatisfaction about being constantly shifted around the Denver Broncos offensive line. This week’s gut-punching news that starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James has opted out of the 2020 season has seen Wilkinson swiftly activated from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to stop the gap once again.
All year long, the team's talking point has been that Wilkinson would battle with Garett Bolles over the starting left tackle job, but fate will now likely see him start at right tackle in Week 1. The 25-year-old former undrafted rookie recently assured fans publicly that the positional shift is really no problem for him.
“Yeah, I mean you know I was preparing myself for left tackle,” Wilkinson told Phil Milani of the team site on Wednesday. “It’s just like riding a bike, you get back on it, back at right tackle. Started 14 games there last season, ready to pick up where I left off and keep trending up.”
Wilkinson actually started 12 games at right tackle last year, though he appeared in 15 and that experience will now prove invaluable as the 6-foot-6, 329-pound blocker attempts to reacclimate to his old position. James’ decision to opt-out of playing this season might have not overly shocked the more cynical sections of Broncos Country, but it did shock his ever-understanding teammate Wilkinson.
“I was surprised. I thought he was playing,” Wilkinson told Milani. “At the end of the day, health is wealth. You know his family is his biggest concern, so you've got to take care of what is really important to you. So he is taking care of his family.”
What Wilkinson understands that many factors play into deciding on whether to sit out the entire year. Playing in the trenches and butting heads on every play comes with a significant amount of risk. For now, Wilkinson is just being a supportive teammate to James through a challenging time.
“You know, it’s all good," Wilkinson said. "I respect his decision and it’s his choice. That’s why the NFL gave everybody the choice to be able to opt-out. So, I respect it.”
Gaining the support of his teammates will undoubtedly come a lot easier than it will for Broncos fans to believe in James again anytime soon. In the cutthroat business of pro football, volunteering to vacate your job and hand it to the hungry next man up often leads to a road straight out of town.
Either way you slice it, a lot will depend on Wilkinson adjusting quickly to playing back at right tackle again. The pressure is on him to improve dramatically over last season’s mostly inconsistent showing if the Broncos are to be successful, and keep QB Drew Lock healthy through all 16 games.