Prior to the 2020 season, there might not have been a more controversial and hated player on the Denver Broncos' roster than left tackle Garett Bolles. A former first-round pick that was inching closer and closer to 'bust' status due to his nasty habit of drawing boneheaded penalties, Bolles was a hot topic in Broncos Country over the course of this past summer.
For good reason, too.
Bolles’ inconsistencies on the blindside had fans and pundits alike pining for his eventual replacement to be drafted following the fourth season of his career, citing his 45 total penalties over his first three seasons as a pro, including 10 total accepted holding flags in 2019.
Many fans feared for Drew Lock’s safety playing behind Bolles, fretting that it was only a matter of time before the young quarterback would get injured.
It seemed as if the Broncos were in lock-step with the general consensus across the fanbase. After all, the Broncos telegraphed their intentions by not exercising Bolles' fifth-year option this past spring.
The message was simple; either improve your play in the final year of your contract or find work elsewhere.
Despite the outside noise and being slapped in the face by the organization that made him the 20th overall selection of the 2017 draft, Bolles showed mental fortitude, dedicating himself to becoming a great player in order to silence his critics.
Bolles is now playing football at an unforeseen level compared to what he had shown in the past. With a drastic improvement in his technique and consistency, he has quietly grown into the best player on the Broncos' offensive line.
"I truly believe a man goes through a rough patch in their life for a reason,” Bolles said on Tuesday. “[It’s] to make them better, and it speaks highly of how a man comes out of that.
“I truly believe I came out of it on a high note—I learned from my mistakes.”
Going back to the 2017 draft, Bolles was widely considered to be one of the top tackle prospects in the class. A raw but highly athletic specimen out of Utah with a mean streak, he was dubbed as a two-to-three-year project for whichever team drafted him.
It was going to take a while for Bolles to get up to speed in the NFL as he refined his technique, but once the investment came to fruition, the dividends are now being paid in spades.
The problem was, Bolles didn’t develop his technique properly as he struggled to adapt his game to a different offensive line coach in each of his first three seasons in the league. With a learning disability serving to complicate and hinder his development, which was mistakenly identified as a lack of work ethic by outsiders, he was unable to adapt to the NFL game as a whole.
While Bolles' play in the running game was among the best in the league over those first three seasons, his pass protection was incredibly inconsistent, leading to several penalty flags to fly.
So why did Bolles struggle so much?
“I think in the past I just used my athletic ability to get the job done,” Bolles explained on Tuesday. “But I think the more I've been in the league, the more I watch film and I watch myself, the more I really dial in on the technical side of things.”
One of the biggest aspects of self-improvement comes from self-scouting. Identifying the flaws within, learning to adapt to and overcome those flaws, and translating those flaws into improvement. As Bolles put it, he realized that he had to learn from those mistakes and grow as a player.
Sometimes, that realization can come at the expense of the ego. Acknowledging that he wouldn’t change his mentality as being “a dog out there”, Bolles understood that he needed to improve his technique, and cited multiple flaws in his game.
“What I did need to change is how I saw things,” Bolles admitted. “How I placed my hands and how I moved my feet, how I keep my shoulders and my numbers square for two kick slides or how I take two kick slides, pause, and get on my guy. Those were the things I had to learn, and it took time.”
Through all of the criticism, both warranted and unwelcomed, Bolles knew that he had to do something different with his preparation for the upcoming season. Looking towards his idols — legendary tackles Jonathan Ogden, Joe Thomas, and Joe Staley — Bolles began to understand that improved technique, along with his incredible athleticism, could help him achieve his goals to become a top-flight left tackle in the league.
“Those guys were technicians for a reason," Bolles said. "They were 10-time Pro Bowlers, first-time [Pro Football Hall of Fame] ballot players because of what they did on the field with their technique.”
Seeing the deficiencies in his technique and understanding why that was the reason for the massive onslaught of criticism levied on his head, Bolles found a new way to improve himself as a player during the offseason, all while dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Without being able to access the Broncos' training facilities or film room, he got creative.
As Bolles and his wife were in the kitchen preparing their dinner, Bolles would practice his footwork without wearing shoes, feeling the floor against his feet and getting a better understanding of his balance and weight placement against a solid surface. A technique multiple offensive linemen, including ex-Broncos' All-Pro Louis Vasquez, have admitted to utilizing over the years.
But it didn’t stop there.
“I had my wife line up and she would run after me and I would take sets,” Bolles said. “ I’d put my hands on her—not hard of course—but just enough so I can get into a repetition of continuing to do the same thing over and over again. I’d run, I’d hit the bag, I’d get a pole and I’d fit it like I was fitting a run game. I’d do whatever I can to find myself—I was training in California to of course not break COVID rules—but be by myself and go to the park and set up a tree or put cones on the ground and set, something like that. I always found something to do to continue to get my body in shape and get my mind where it needs to be mentally and physically and really dial in what I needed to do.”
That creative mindset, alongside having back-to-back seasons with venerated O-line coach Mike Munchak, has turned a once-maligned career on its head. The focus on the little things, such as changing his diet, changing his sleep schedule, and not “going through the motions”, has transformed Bolles into a quality left tackle.
Bolles has only allowed nine total QB pressures on the season and has yet to surrender a sack through the team’s 10 games. While he has had a few penalties as well, the yellow laundry has not fallen with anywhere close to the rapidity of the previous three years as his play drastically improved.
We're talking about a quanum-leap type of improvement as illustrated by his current ranking as the No. 1 offensive tackle in the league per Pro Football Focus' grading system.
Bolles' performance has completely changed the narrative surrounding his future with the Broncos, and he's now poised to receive a long-term contract extension following the season.
Bolles' focus remains on the present and becoming the best player he can be with his ultimate goal of becoming the best offensive tackle in the league. He knows that if he takes care of his business on the field, everything else will fall into place.
“I mean, that would be nice, but it’s not up to me," Bolles said of garnering an extension from the Broncos. "That’s why I hired an agent. He talks to Mr. Elway. When they want to do it, they’ll do it. That’s just how I look at it. I just want to be consistent. I have to go out there and play at a high level every single week. Fix my mistakes throughout the weeks but go out there and shine.”