Vic Fangio Says Broncos Haven't Considering Benching Beleaguered RT Elijah Wilkinson
Elijah Wilkinson is a great try-hard guy. What the 0-2 Denver Broncos need, though, are great do-good guys.
On Sunday in Pittsburgh, Wilkinson was dominated by the Steelers' vaunted edge-rusher TJ Watt. Although Pro Football Focus only credited Wilkinson with relinquishing four pressures, including one sack and one QB hit, he was allowing Steelers into the Broncos' backfield like a turnstile.
Some argue that the Dupree hit on Lock that led to the shoulder injury that will cost him 2-6 weeks can ultimately be laid at Wilkinson's feet. Wilkinson did allow instant pressure from Watt off the right side, which pushed Lock off his point in the pocket and got him moving and stumbling, which led to Dupree's jarring hit from behind.
The biggest questions I've gotten from Broncos fans since the Lock injury go something like this: 'When will Demar Dotson get his shot at right tackle? When will the Broncos bench Wilkinson? What's it going to take?'
Head coach Vic Fangio was asked on Monday how he viewed Wilkinson's Week 2 performance and in answering, revealed that the coaching staff hasn't even discussed the prospect of sitting Wilkinson down.
“Elijah had a lot of good plays, but then he had some plays where he was inconsistent in his sets and protection," Fangio said on Monday from Dove Valley. "No, we haven’t had those thoughts yet [benching Wilkinson] to the second part of your question.”
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The beleaguered guard playing right tackle has been tasked with stepping in for Ja'Wuan James once again, only this time, it's not due to injury. James opted out of the 2020 season, catapulting Wilkinson back into starting duties once again.
However, after starting 12 games last season and struggling in pass protection, relinquishing 10 sacks, the Broncos knew what they had in Wilkinson. Still, the team went out and signed the best available veteran in the wake of James' opt-out, brining in the ex-Tampa Bay tackle Dotson as training camp began.
Although there was a fleeting moment late in camp where Dotson was given a share of the first-team reps, Wilkinson held on to the starting job. Wilkinson was a sieve in Week 1 and following the game, anyone paying attention worried that his lack of foot-speed and quickness was going to lead to calamity.
Depending on one's view of the play that Lock was injured on, I don't blame any fan for feeling like Wilkinson's poor play got Lock hurt. But the flip-side to that coin is that there were things Lock could have done himself to prevent that grievous injury. Lock tried to play 'hero ball' after Wilkinson's assignment had flushed him from the pocket.
Coach Fangio wishes Lock had stepped up in the pocket. I wish Lock would have just thrown it away.
“He could have stepped up and executed, stayed with the play a little bit longer," Fangio said. "Then once you start scrambling, and any time you’ve hit the ground, you’re always in danger of getting hurt particularly a quarterback where the shoulders or anything to your throwing arm can happen.”
The Steelers threw a stunt at left tackle Garett Bolles and left guard Dalton Risner and the duo was slow to react, which allowed Dupree to blow by Bolles. At some level, Bolles and Risner share in the blame for Dupree's free shot at Lock.
Had Lock stepped up, he still gets rocked by Dupree, though, which is why a throw-away would have been the wisest decision.
Woulda, shoulda, coulda.
It's football. Chaos happens. Small details get missed or overlooked in the heat of battle.
But I don't blame Lock for breaking the pocket. He had the chance to throw it away and avoid the hit but he wanted to keep the play alive and make something happen for his team.
The young QB will hopefully learn from this costly injury. Better to throw incomplete and live to fight another down. If he wants to establish himself as a bonafide NFL quarterback, he has to be on the field.
Meanwhile, the Broncos seem to be committed to Wilkinson at right tackle. Maybe it has something to do with the fully-guaranteed $3.2 million restricted free-agent tender he's playing on. I honestly don't know.
I'm as mystified as the next guy. This seems like an obvious solution — sitting Wilkinson down and giving the experienced, career tackle Dotson a shot.
I could understand last year when the Broncos didn't bench Wilkinson. There were no other viable options behind him. This time around, the Broncos have a guy in Dotson who's started at right tackle in the NFL for the past eight years.
It's the literal definition of 'inexplicable'. If Lock suffering a serious injury didn't spark action on the part of O-line Coach Mike Munchak and Fangio himself, what will? That's rhetorical.
Barring injury, Wilkinson is your starting right tackle in 2020.