Historically, when the Broncos are at their best, their offensive line is one of the top blocking units in the NFL.
Through two games this year, Denver’s front doesn’t qualify as elite. But they are getting there, in spite of injuries to right guard Quinn Meinerz (hamstring) and right tackle Billy Turner (knee).
“We have a lot to get better at in terms of cleaning up penalties and pre-snap penalties, but in all reality, we’ve had two really good rushing games and we’ve got to continue to build off the rushing that we’ve had,” left guard Dalton Risner said. “Our protection’s been really good too, even though here and there we’ve had some negative runs and a few sacks. But in terms of starting the season, with Billy not being able to go yet and Quinn battling an early injury, we’ve done really well.”
General manager George Paton’s roster construction gave the Broncos breathing room for just those types of injuries on the offensive line. Whereas in recent years the Broncos needed to turn to inexperienced players when starters went down, this season, they had two veterans waiting in the wings at right guard (Graham Glasgow) and right tackle (Cam Fleming).
Glasgow, Denver’s starter at right guard last year before sustaining a season-ending fractured ankle in Week 9, grades the Broncos’ line at an A-minus so far. The Broncos rank 10th in average rushing yards (126), tied-19th in sacks (five, although a couple of those could be classified as coverage/scramble sacks) and are 24th in points per game (16).
“In addition to good (run blocking), there hasn’t been an exorbitant amount of hits or pressures (on quarterback Russell Wilson),” Glasgow said. “And very seldom is someone getting beat clean (off the line).”
Much of the Broncos’ scoring problems can be attributed to red zone inefficiencies, with Denver is 0-for-6 in that area through two weeks. But the Denver hogmollies believe if they keep helping Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon pound the rock, finishing drives won’t be an issue going forward.
Williams has 118 rushing yards this year and Gordon 105. While neither of them has completely taken over a game yet, left tackle Garett Bolles believes it’s only a matter of time.
“Our run game has been electric the last two weeks,” Bolles said. “We’ve just got to continue to stick with it because it’s hard for people to bring those guys down, and that’s going to wear (on defenses) throughout the season.”
At least one reinforcement is likely coming Sunday to the Broncos’ starting front. Turner, who was limited in Thursday’s practice, is on track to make his season debut after an offseason knee scope delayed his return to action.
The Broncos signed Turner to a one-year deal in March after he spent the last three seasons in Green Bay with then-offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. He played in 20 games (11 starts) for the Broncos from 2016-18. If he starts Sunday, he’ll be Denver’s 15th different starting right tackle over the last seven seasons.
“Everything’s better with my knee and going in the right direction,” Turner said. “I’m as close to (full health) as possible. It’s a long season, and you’ve got to make sure you peak at the right time, so we wanted to be smart about (the first two games).”
Hackett has continually sidestepped questions about Turner’s availability against San Francisco but noted the lineman has been “getting used to anchoring, getting used to setting, run blocking, all those things” in the team portion of practice against Denver’s defense.
“(My knee) has held up well in practice,” Turner said. “Recovery was my big worry, but recovery hasn’t been an issue at all…. I’m taking it day-by-day. I haven’t really done a lot of football stuff like these other guys since January, so I’ve just got to keep progressing forward, and getting back into football shape and getting my technique back.”
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Meinerz returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis for the first time since getting hurt in Week 1 against Seattle. The guard believes he is “trending in the right way,” though he remains questionable for Sunday.
“I’ve been attacking this rehab pretty hard,” Meinerz said. “I’m doing some back-to-the-field tests on it (Thursday).”
While Lloyd Cushenberry remains Denver’s anchor at center — the third-year pro has missed only one of 35 potential games in his career — Risner and Bolles continue to stabilize the left side. Meinerz’ development at right guard has been buoyed by Glasgow, as the latter described how the two have a “great working professional relationship.”
“When I was out there last year, I would ask him to watch me and (analyze),” Glasgow explained. “When I got hurt, I would watch him and tell him what I thought from the game. And he asked me to watch him before he got hurt in the Seattle game. We are constantly giving each other tips and critiques.”
The Broncos’ front faces its stiffest test of the season Sunday against a San Francisco front that ranks second in average rushing yards allowed (67.5) and features one of the league’s premier edge rushers in Pro Bowler Nick Bosa.
“I’m hoping (Bosa’s) shoelace breaks, where he has to come out a few times,” Broncos offensive coordinator Justin Outten quipped. “He’s a game-wrecker, and we’ve got to account for him and we’ve got to know where he is. They do a good job of flipping him around, so we’ve got to be mindful of where he is… This is going to be a great challenge for us up front.”