Broncos' Garett Bolles needs to learn to bounce back, move forward

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Almost since the first day he walked into the Denver Broncos complex, left tackle Garett Bolles has been pegged by the team’s decision-makers as an immediate solution.

Broncos coach Vance Joseph called him the “best pass-protector" in the 2017 NFL draft after Denver used the 20th pick of the first round to select him. President of football operations/general manager John Elway called him “in our mind the best left tackle in the draft."

With that came a mixture of soaring expectations to go with an often-bumpy ride on the learning curve. And Bolles has been another in a long line of up-and-comers who have shown that learning technique went hand-in-hand with handling criticism and endless evaluations from inside and outside the team.

At quarterback, cornerback and left tackle, positions where mistakes are often out in the open, the ability to bounce back and keep bouncing back might be as important as footwork and knowledge of the playbook.

“If a left tackle whiffs on a rusher, it’s a sack and it could be a sack fumble," Joseph said. "If a corner gets beat on a [deep route], everyone sees it. Same with the quarterback. If he throws a pick, everyone sees it. Those three spots, when you’re drafting for your team, they are always priorities. ... Those four spots make or break your day on Sundays."

Last season was often a struggle for Bolles as he led the team with 15 penalties overall -- three were declined -- including 10 holding infractions. He had three games with multiple penalties, and Joseph has said there were times when Bolles struggled to move on to the next play.

He certainly isn’t alone in that, but it can be a difficult transition for players who have usually succeeded plenty on their way to the NFL.

“Some positions are like that," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "You have to line up the next play and get it right. If you don’t, you’ll keep being the guy giving up touchdowns. You fix the mistakes later, but you have to line up and compete after they happen."

With the Broncos now relying heavily on rookies Bradley Chubb, Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman and Courtland Sutton, those first-year players are also learning how to deal with criticism.

“It is different," Lindsay said. “You do have to make sure you just keep competing, against players who have done it a lot longer than you all of a sudden. You go from being a senior in college football, maybe one of the most experienced guys on the field, to playing against players who know all the little things. You have to compete hard all the time against that."

Bolles leads the team in penalties this season, with 10 in 13 games, but the Broncos (6-7) say he has responded to the rough spots much better. Veteran right tackle Jared Veldheer has helped, as has Chris Strausser, who coaches the team’s tackles and is one of the assistants on the sideline during games.

Bolles had a three-game stretch after the team’s bye week when he was not penalized.

“I’ve got to play the best I can be," Bolles said. “Those penalties and holding calls and things like that, it hurts my team. I’m that left side, so I’ve got to hold it down with [quarterback] Case [Keenum]. Case doesn’t feel comfortable when I’m doing those things. Doing those things and doing the things I need to with the proper hand placement and proper technique, it’s going to continue to help us go far."