ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Quinn Meinerz has come so far from trying to catch the attention of NFL scouts by knocking over dead trees while on summer vacation.
>>Video above: Sitting down with Broncos draft pick Quinn Meinerz
He has gone from missing his senior season at tiny Wisconsin-Whitewater because the entire NCAA Division III shut down its football season because of COVID-19 concerns, to surrendering his "Belly" brand that made him a draft day cult hero, to joining backup quarterback Drew Lock as the only two dressed players to not play in the Broncos’ first two games, to breaking in on special team grunt duty, to starting his sixth consecutive game at right guard Sunday when Denver visits Allegiant Stadium to play the Las Vegas Raiders in an AFC West divisional matchup.
"After a game, I love getting my corrections and I write down every single thing and as soon as we get ready for our first practice of the week on Wednesday I’m already looking to keep improving on some of the things I did not do so well in the game," Meinerz said.
Are his corrections assignment-oriented, or about his technique?
"I would say on the film, I’ll be honest, I would say a little bit of both," he said. "I’d say more so the technique side of things. It’s just trusting my footwork, trusting my hands, and also trusting the people around me and making sure I’m doing my job the best that I can. Coach (Mike) Munchak, coach (Chris) Kuper and coach (Chris) Cook have been super helpful in my development of making sure I get my corrections and working on them daily."
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This is a modest rookie. Maybe, the perception of him wasn’t that way initially as his “Belly” moniker immediately made him a fan and media favorite. To his credit, he dropped the gut sideshow on his own, and not at the urging of his old school head coach Vic Fangio.
"No that has nothing to do with Fangio," Meinerz said this week in a sit-down Zoom interview with 9NEWS. "It was some maturing on my part and understanding that the NFL is a little bit different than what I did in college and what I did in high school. So it was time to earn my stripes and be a rookie and not try to be in the spotlight because I got a lot of things to do before my time."
After he was the third pick of the Broncos’ terrific 2021 draft class – first- round cornerback Pat Surtain II, second-round running back Javonte Williams, the third-round Meinerz and linebacker Baron Browning are all starters – Meinerz spent a lot of his offseason and training camp learning how to play center. He may have stayed there except it was injuries to, first, Dalton Risner at left guard and then Graham Glasgow at right guard that made him the team’s right guard.
"I would definitely say adventurous is a good word for it," Meinerz said. "I come in here and am expected to learn center. And on top of that I was learning both guards as well. So it’s definitely been a rollercoaster, had its ups, had its downs. I was thankful in the preseasons to get a little bit of guard, a little bit of center and really, I guess wait my turn. Because with the long season we have, I knew my opportunity was going to come eventually. I just wanted to make sure I was ready for that.
"It was unfortunate that Graham had the season-ending (broken ankle) injury. You hate to see that. My job was to come in and make things seamless and keep holding up the offensive line for the Denver Broncos."
Meinerz is apparently a little too raw for Pro Football Focus’ taste, but he gets high marks internally where it matters most. There simply aren’t many guards who have his rare combination of athleticism and power, skills he often shows as he pulls, or keeps churning straight ahead, on running plays by Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III.
"I have plenty of personal goals, none of it involves what PFF has me graded at," Meinerz said with a laugh. "My goal is to keep improving every single week. I want to have no missed assignments. I want to have great technique. And most importantly, I just want to win. There’s no better feeling than getting into the locker room after a game with a nice win especially when you get 30 rush attempts and you see on the scoreboard you’ve got 150 yards rushing. Those are the things that get me excited.
"Our backs, we’ve got a great 1-2 punch in the backfield. We definitely enjoy running the ball with them. They keep their feet moving, they break tackles. And that gets us on the offensive line super excited to make sure we get that extra push and extra shove because our running backs are going to break through those arm tackles and they’re going to keep moving their feet and fall forward."
Because he didn’t play last year, Meinerz believes his body is fresher than most as the Broncos enter game 15 of a 17-game season. He’s also been a quick study in following how the veteran players take care of themselves. And so it’s on to Las Vegas for more blocks, more corrections, more fun, and he hopes another win.
Regardless of whether the Broncos make the playoffs – they likely would have to win their final three and still need tiebreaker help to get there – it’s going to be fun for a rookie like Meinerz to first of all play three more games, but also because all three are against the Broncos’ division rival Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs.
"No doubt. There’s definitely a lot of fun playing football this time of year," he said. And like you said these divisional opponents, I’m learning what Broncos Country feels like towards these other teams and I’m starting to get that fire and I definitely love playing against these teams."
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