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Improved Bolles in position to go from jeers to riches

Broncos' four-year left tackle is "grateful" coach Shurmur put in pulling block scheme. Bolles even credited media criticism for inspiring positive change.
Credit: AP Photo/David Becker
Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) looks on from the sideline during an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in Las Vegas.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Again and again, Garett Bolles was talking about how he loves everybody.

Loves his Broncos teammates. He and him are the best in the league, far as he’s concerned. Loves his Broncos coaches, they’re all phenomenal. Loves the Broncos fans and the Broncos organization.

The team’s no longer maligned left tackle has expressed all-encompassing affection – through tough times and in good -- every time he’s been interviewed since he was the team’s first-round draft pick in 2017.

But then in a break from form, Bolles found a group that hasn’t been so lovely.

"I know you all kicked me in the butt over the years, but that's just something that I took was for me to change," Bolles said in his Zoom media conference Tuesday. "If it wasn't for me to change, I know I wouldn’t be where I'm at. I took that very seriously and I took it into this offseason. I fixed the things I did (wrong) and this is me, and I'm not going anywhere."

And so even to his critics, Bolles explained it in a way where the media deserves (gasp!) some love. Bolles must have had selective hearing last year, though, because it wasn’t just the sports talk radio conversationalists – a decent percentage of whom are former Broncos offensive linemen, and therefore know a thing or two about blocker play – who were giving him the business.

Decibel recording data was not immediately available but it’s believed a Broncos’ home crowd has never booed one player as lustily it did Bolles during the second quarter of the Broncos’ second game last year against the Chicago Bears. Working against the Bears’ eminent edge rusher Khalil Mack, Bolles was flagged for three holding penalties in the second quarter alone, four in the game.

This season, Bolles has three penalties all season through 10 games. And only one has been accepted. The fans in the north and south stands – where have you gone, fans in the north and south stands? – must be among those pleasantly stunned by Bolles’ turnaround.

Bolles credits greater attention to fundamental work – or technique in football parlance – to his improved play.

"I think in the past I just used my athletic ability to get the technical side of things," Bolles said. "You talk about some of the greatest tackles to play—Joe Thomas, Jonathan Ogden and Joe Staley, those guys were technicians for a reason. They were 10-time Pro Bowlers, Hall of Fame players, first-time (Hall of Fame) ballot players because of what they did on the field with their technique.

"To the little things where taking sets barefoot in your kitchen, to watching film, watching guys, looking on the outside shoulder, hand movement and hand fights, and things like that— those guys did it and so just hearing from them and hearing their stories, makes me want to just continue to go out there and work on my technique."

RELATED: Day after: Broncos break out Shurmur Sweep to trample Dolphins

RELATED: Bolles says boos means he has to play better

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (72) against the Miami Dolphins during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Bolles gets a hold of left tackle position

Number of holding penalties Garett Bolles has been charged with in his four Broncos seasons:

Year … Games … Total … Accepted … Accepted rank

2017 …..….. 10 ………10 …………….… 7 … T-1

2018 …….… 16 ………. 9 ……………… 7 … T-1

2019 …….… 16 …….  13 ……………… 6 … T-6

2020 ………. 16 ………. 3 ……………… 1 … N/A

Still, what sets Bolles apart from other left tackles – what made him a first-round selection, No. 20 overall, despite his comparatively advanced rookie age of 25 out of Utah in 2017 -- is his superior athleticism.  This isn’t a left tackle. This is a former high school lacrosse player who bulked up to 300 pounds to become a left tackle. Bolles’ rare combination of light feet and great size was on profound display during the Broncos’ 20-13 win Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

Broncos’ offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and offensive line coach Mike Munchak devised a run-blocking scheme that often had Bolles from the left edge and left guard Dalton Risner pulling all the way over to the far right lanes to clear open paths of destruction for running backs Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay.

"I love Dalton dearly," Bolles said (told ya.). "He's a tremendous left guard to play with. I hope I can play with him for my entire career. We always take it seriously, we're always talking about being the best left side in football and I truly believe we can, just with our demeanor and how we want so bad to be the greatest.

"But pulling is something that I'm grateful that coach Shurmur put into our game plan. We're both two athletic guys that can pull around and make havoc in the run game, so the more that we can get us going, I feel like that's just a cup of tea that we bring to the game that a lot of teams can dread over just because of who we are and how we can run. It's hard to find athletic people these days, so when you have them, use them, and I'm grateful that they use us in the way that they did on Sunday."

Bolles is having his best season after Broncos management sent him mixed votes of confidence during the offseason. They showed belief by not acquiring another left tackle either through free agency or the top end of the draft, a non-action that  brought heavy public criticism.

Then again, Broncos’ bosses also sent a message of doubt when they declined to pick up Bolles’ fifth-year option, which would have paid him $11.064 million in 2021.

Which, as it’s turning out, was lucky for Bolles. He’s now six games away from gaining the leverage of free agency where the market currently has six offensive tackles averaging at least $15 million a year, two of whom – David Bakhtiari and Laremy Tunsil – are making annual averages of $23 million and $22 million, respectively.

Then again, the market figures to depress some following a COVID-ravaged year on the NFL’s economy. The uncertainty of how much the salary cap will drop is one reason why the Broncos have yet to open up conversations with Bolles’ agent Chase Callahan on a contract extension.

Still, a few player extensions have been getting done and Bolles figures to get his – hopefully, he says, with the Broncos, and, sure, he’d prefer it sooner rather than later.

"I mean, that would be nice, but it’s not up to me,’’ Bolles said. “That’s why I hired an agent, he talks to Mr. Elway. When they want to do it, they’ll do it. That’s just how I look at it. I just want to be consistent. I have to go out there and play at a high level every single week. Fix my mistakes throughout the weeks but go out there and shine.

"I love what Coach Munchak says. He says, ‘You get paid during the week, but on Sundays you play for free,’ and that’s what it is. You’re grinding throughout the week, you’re working on technical things, you’re doing everything that you can so when you get to the game it slows down for you and you’re ready to pick up whatever they throw to you.

"My agent Chase Callahan, he’ll take care of that, and at the end of the day he continues to tell me my job is to play football and his job is to talk to the front office. I’m just going to continue to do that."

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