ENGLEWOOD—To think that when Khalil Mack was destroying the Denver Broncos’ right tackle on his way to five sacks in a game 21 months ago, Garett Bolles was in junior college.
A juco called Snow College, to be exact. On Dec. 5, 2015, Bolles led the Snow College Badgers past Dodge City Community College in the Salt City Bowl. Eight days later, Mack beat right tackle Michael Schofield for four of his five sacks in a surprise 15-12 Raiders victory against a Broncos team that went on to win Super Bowl 50.
Mack is still the defensive star for the Raiders while Bolles will be the Broncos’ starting left tackle as a first-round rookie when the two sides meet Sunday afternoon at eventually-to-be-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
“Crazy,’’ Bolles said in a sit-down interview with 9News this week. “But the world works in mysterious ways and you’ve got to trust the process and every day put a smile on your face and continue to work and that’s what I’ve done.
“I have a wife and a son who rely on me every single day. So, I’ve got to work hard. And I’ve got brothers to left and right of me and a great organization that relies on me every single day.
“It’s going to be fun to watch this Sunday against our rivalry. It’s a rivalry game so everyone is going to be pumped up. Fans are going to be pumped up. Players are going to be pumped up. That’s how it’s going to be. So, it’s going to be a dogfight and I’m excited to see what happens.’’
Whoa there, Garett. The energy you just read in his response there helps explain why Bolles went from Ephraim, Utah to the University of Utah, to hoisting his son in Philadelphia after the Broncos called his name with the No. 20 overall draft pick to studying up on Mack and Bruce Irvin, the Raiders’ edge rushers, this past week.
That Bolles has been the Broncos’ left tackle from Day 1 of training camp is a more significant feat than people may realize. Jack Conklin, Laremy Tunsil, Germain Ifedi, Brandon Scherff, Andrus Peat, Cedric Ogbuehi, D.J. Humphries, Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan and Ja’Wauan James were first-round offensive tackles going back to 2014 who have started somewhere other than left tackle as rookies.
Bolles has been so solid at left tackle, he got no time off after taking a cart ride off the stadium field with an apparent serious injury in a blowout win against Dallas two weeks ago, only to play every snap last week at Buffalo.
“The coaches believe in me. My teammates believe in me. And I believe in myself,’’ he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing knowing that you can handle the job. You get the best pass rushers every single day. We’ve got great people here. Von Miller, Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett and those guys push me every single day from OTAs all the way till now. Every single day I get work and I watch them, they teach me things. And they make me a better player. I’ve definitely improved from when I first came here to where I’m at right now. I’m a completely different player. I feel calm out there. I feel relaxed. I feel like that’s my position. I own that position. I’m just excited to see in the next couple years where I’m heading and the guys next to me go.’’
Bolles is also a quick healer. He didn’t know that two weeks ago because he was unaccustomed to injury. He got banged up on a goal line play two weeks ago when he got kicked near the left ankle by a Dallas defensive linemen.
Bolles was down on the field in pain and then was carted off. As he waved to the crowd, it seemed like goodbye.
It turned out to be a bone bruise in the leg just above the left ankle.
“It was scary. I had never been injured in any of the sports I’ve played,’’ said Bolles, who was also a pretty fair lacrosse player in his youth. “So that was new to me. When I went down I tried to put pressure on my leg and I fell down. And then they told me some things. It was more of a protocol type of thing. They said let’s get some x-rays and make sure everything is OK. Because we thought my femur or my leg was broken.
“I didn’t feel anything and I went through the worst-case scenario. When I went off I thought it was going to be the last playing in that stadium for the season.
“By the luck of the draw and the good Lord took care of me and didn’t give me the worst injury that we all thought and I heal quick and my leg feels great. And I’m ready for the rest of the season.’’
The hope for the Broncos today is Bolles and the Broncos’ physical offensive line can wear down the Raiders’ front with the help of Denver’s key home-field advantage component – 5,280 feet above sea level.
“They’ve got a great defense,’’ he said. “You’ve got Irvin and then you’ve got Khalil Mack who is one of the best players to ever play the position. But I also have the best on my team, Von Miller. They learned from Von. When Von had that pass camp earlier in the season he had all those guys come together in the summer so he helped those guys get better. And he helped me get better.
“They’re great. They’ve got big guys up front. They move fast, they flow to the ball fast. That’s our offense. We like to control the game, put points on the board and score fast. We’re up in the altitude and we’re used to it. That’s our biggest advantage when teams come to Denver knowing we’re at a high altitude and it’s harder for teams to catch to us if we start fast. That’s what we plan on doing.’’