If Garett Bolles is one of the most maddening players to watch as a fan or analyst, imagine how his coaches must feel at times. With the arrival of Mike Munchak as the Denver Broncos' O-Line Coach, the team brass hoped Bolles would turn the corner in 2019.
A full season removed, it's fair to say we still haven't fully seen that happen. Don't get me wrong, Munchak most evidently did reach Bolles, as the former first-rounder really elevated his play and smoothed out his technique from the Broncos' Week 10 bye on.
But those discipline lapses still came at least once per game. Usually, the lapses came in the form of a holding penalty, but also included were a couple of pre-snap false starts and an unnecessary roughness penalty in Week 17 that you could argue cost the Broncos an additional three points, and kept the Oakland Raiders alive until the waning seconds.
All in, Bolles finished the 2019 regular season as eighth-most penalized player in the NFL, based on accepted penalties. If you rank him simply based on the number of flags that were thrown (17), he finished second in the league behind only Houston's Laremy Tunsil.
Considering the depth predicament Ja'Wuan James' injury put the Broncos in, the team's options were limited in 2019. But what about this next year? Will the Broncos look to upgrade Bolles, or is the team comfortable with him at left tackle?
"One thing about Garett, he was available," GM John Elway said in his end-of-season presser on Monday. "He was there every play. I don’t think he missed a play this year."
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If the only praise a front-office czar can offer a starter is by noting his daily presence, it comes off more as back-handed. This is the NFL. I get the whole 'avail-ability is the best ability' ethos, but just being there every day is literally the lowest possible denominator one could hang one's hat on. Fortunately, Elway elaborated.
"He got off to a slow start, but I think that he continued to get better and better and better as the year went on," Elway said. "We did a better job helping him, too. I think [G Dalton] Risner did a nice job at left guard helping him and working together. That cohesion there was good. Vic [Fangio] and I were talking about the call that he got yesterday [vs. Oakland]. You can say that happens all the time and that doesn’t get called. The hard thing is that Garett is under the microscope. He’s under the microscope and any time they say ‘72,’ it brings down the whole stadium. That happens."
There's the rub. I'll be the first to say that especially down the stretch, a majority of the calls Bolles got from the officials felt ticky-tack. But it's because, as Elway said, he was under the microscope. As the most penalized player since entering the NFL, he's developed a reputation among refs.
"He got himself in that position, so we’ll continue working at it," Elway said. "Now, we had a lot of injuries at tackle. Ja’Wuan didn’t play and then Elijah [Wilkinson] went down. Again, nobody is in this thing for sure. It’s always open competition going into training camp and we’ll evaluate where Garett is and talk to Mike [Munchak] and [Asst OL Coach] Chris [Kuper] and see what they think where we’re going with the offensive line, but Garett continued to get better. He got better and he was available, and that’s important.”
Elway did qualify his remarks by acknowledging that no player should rest on his laurels heading into a training camp. There will be competition.
The question is, what level of competition? Are we talking about a late-round, developmental tackle drafted to come in and serve as depth?
Or are we talking about a high-dollar free agent or premium-round draft pick? That would create a different posture for Bolles entirely. Only time will tell.
My gut tells me the Broncos aren't going into this offseason with the view that left tackle is a hole. Bolles will be the incumbent and he will be penciled in as the starter for 2020, regardless of what the team does in the draft.
But unless the board falls just perfectly, I have a sneaking suspicion that Denver will go a different route in the first round. Elway doesn't like to show his hand but interpreting the tonality, as well as the content of what he said, it feels the Broncos are comfortable with Bolles at left tackle, even though he represented a whopping 15% of the team's total penalties all year.