PALM BEACH, Fla — Dalton Risner and Quinn Meinerz may well wind up with the starting guard spots that were theirs at last season’s end.
But they’re going to have to fight to keep them.
Using the Russell Wilson hysteria as cover, Broncos general manager George Paton and head coach Nathaniel Hackett have quietly built up depth along the offensive line that is responsible for protecting its new quarterback.
“We have a lot of depth and we have a lot of flexibility within that depth,’’ Paton said here Sunday in a sit-down interview with 9NEWS along the wave-crashing banks of the Atlantic Ocean.
Risner is a three-year starter at left guard and Meinerz was a third-round rookie last season who started the final eight games at right guard. But breathing down the back of their shoulder pads are veteran Graham Glasgow, who is back healthy and with a reduced but fully guaranteed $3.2 million salary this year, plus newcomers Ben Braden and tackles-who-can-play-guard Billy Turner and Tom Compton.
Turner, Compton and Braden are all experienced in the outside-zone blocking system coached by Hackett, offensive coordinator Justin Outten and offensive line coach Butch Barry in recent years. Risner and Meinerz are not. Risner and Meinerz were teacher's pets, of sorts, of former Broncos’ offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Now Butch Barry is judging the offensive linemen.
“Tom Compton and Billy Turner are two guys who have been in this run game, and this pass protection,’’ Hackett said. “Two veterans that I’m really excited to have in the building. My experience with Billy has been extensive for the past three years. I love him. I’m so happy to have those guys. Just because of the type of people they are. It’s so important to have depth in that room.”
On paper, the Broncos’ 2022 offensive line would have Garett Bolles at left tackle, Risner at left guard, Lloyd Cushenberry III at center, Meinerz at right guard, and, once he’s healthy from arthroscopic knee surgery, Billy Turner at right tackle.
The top offensive tackle backups are Calvin Anderson, who will draw a fully guaranteed $2.5 million salary, and Compton, who has $1.5 million of his $2.25 million payout guaranteed.
Glasgow, who started all 20 games he played in for the Broncos the past two years until he suffered a leg fracture in the win against the Cowboys in game 9 last season, and Compton, has started at both guard spots and center. Meinerz can play center, too, so Cushenberry can’t relax either, not that he’s the type. Braden is a guard who can play tackle; Compton and Turner, who signed a one-year $2.5 million deal, are right tackles who can play guards.
And don’t forget Netane Muti, a draft pick in 2020 who has started three games at right guard.
“We signed Compton, he can play all across the line,’’ Paton said. “We signed Billy Turner, he can play across the line. It really helps on game day and helps throughout the season because you know you’re going to have injuries. And we’re going to keep adding to the offensive line in the draft and the rest of free agency. It’s competition.’’
Indeed, the Broncos may use one of their top five draft picks -- from No. 64 in the second round until No. 116 in the fourth round -- on an offensive tackle. Tulsa's Tyler Smith and Washington State's Abraham Lucas are right tackles the Broncos are scheduled to bring into team headquarters as part of their top 30 draft-prospect visits.
Here's a look at the Broncos' depth chart:
OT: Garett Bolles, Billy Turner, Tom Compton, Calvin Anderson
G: Dalton Risner, Quinn Meinerz, Graham Glasgow, Netane Muti, Tom Compton, Billy Turner, Ben Braden
C: Lloyd Cushenberry III, Meinerz, Glasgow
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