Tuesday was a busy day for the Denver Broncos decision makers as the triumvirate of Head Coach Vic Fangio, GM John Elway, and CEO Joe Ellis all held court with media via Zoom call.
Some essential housekeeping was also underway as the Broncos cut the roster numbers from 90 to 80, as per the NFL’s July 28 roster deadline.
In a move that came as something of a shock to Broncos Country, OL Elijah Wilkinson was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Denver’s 25-year-old swing tackle will be pitted in an open competition with incumbent left tackle Garett Bolles for the full-time job of protecting the blindside of QB Drew Lock.
Wilkinson underwent minor surgery on his left ankle early this summer, but there was no sign or hint of a setback in his recovery that would necessitate a PUP designation to open camp. In fact, just recently, Wilkinson joined Cecil Lammey and ex-Bronco Nick Ferguson on 104.3 The Fan's Nick and Cecil show to express how much he was looking forward to getting back in the swing of things at training camp.
“Chomping at the bit, you know to just be in the building, just have that feeling of being around the guys," Wilkinson told the 104.3 The Fan on Monday. “Really what we’ve been missing all offseason, but you know, just to get a good solid walkthrough, to be able to go through the plays and hear Drew Lock say the play in the huddle. All that stuff that we have been missing that we haven’t really had, that’s what I’m really hoping to get back to.”
Wilkinson’s hopes for a swift return to football normality have been put on hold, for now at least. Fans can only now speculate on whether the tackle has suffered another injury setback or if the medical staff is just playing it safe with his recovery program.
As Wilkinson lands on the PUP list, he will also have zero preseason game time to get reps with which to prove he can unseat Bolles at left tackle. Undoubtedly, Bolles, despite his own well-documented struggles, must now be odds-on favorite to remain the Broncos starting option come Week 1.
Coach Fangio addressed the battle for left tackle during Tuesday’s virtual presser. Surprisingly, he remained silent on Wilkinson’s injury designation, but he did lift the lid on Bolles' own offseason preparations ahead of the crucial positional battle with his teammate.
"I think it remains to be seen who has any sort of advantage or disadvantage based upon the current atmosphere," Fangio said. "I do think Garett—I saw him the other day—has had a very good offseason. I think he feels he’s in his best spot both physically, mentally and emotionally than he’s ever been in during his career. I think he feels good coming back with the same offensive line coach for the first time I think in his career. He’s had me as the head coach now for two years. I think the arrow is up as far as it goes for Garett. That’s easy to say here as we sit late July. We’ll see how it unfolds. I think he’s in a good spot as it relates to everything as much as he can be.
It will come as somewhat of a relief to hear that Bolles is in a good headspace as he embarks on the attrition of training camp. That being said, the goal was always to push the fourth-year tackle by throwing Wilkinson into the competitive mix to find out conclusively whether the trenchmen can take quantum leaps in their respective performances.
However, until Wilkinson is once again cleared to play, it's advantage Bolles in the battle to keep Lock’s blindside clean in 2020.