ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos re-made their offensive line in the offseason they knew there might be growing pains, especially given they happen to reside in a division that contains some of the league's best pass rushers.
Even now the Broncos are a work-in-progress as they rotate Max Garcia and Allen Barbre at left guard, so their preseason vow “to play the best five" up front has actually turned into playing the best six. In their 3-1 start, opposing defenses have tested two of those new starters the most -- rookie left tackle Garett Bolles and right tackle Menelik Watson.
And things won’t get any easier because the Broncos’ schedule is populated with some of the league’s best pass rushers.
“That’s this league," said Broncos coach Vance Joseph. “This league, one defense, is about edge rushers and coverage."
Bolles was tossed into the deep end of the pool in training camp, as he has worked with the starters through the summer and into the first quarter of the season. The athleticism that made Bolles a first-round prospect across the league has been on display, but some of those decorated pass rushers have made it difficult at times for him to learn on the job.
And Watson, who is one of the most powerful players in the league, is someone the Broncos hope will take the next step in his career with the opportunity they have given him. Watson, who has battled a variety of injuries at times, has never started more than nine games in any of his previous four seasons and never played in more than 12 in any season.
Watson has seen defenses test him with some speed rushers on the strong side of the formation, and Joseph has said at times over the season’s first four weeks that the Broncos’ work in pass protection needs to be better. Asked about the tackles specifically this week, Joseph said that both had played well for the most part.
“I think the tackles have competed well, starting with Garett Bolles," Joseph said. “He’s a talent. He’s won a lot of his one-on-ones and he hasn’t been beat much. Menelik Watson has competed well. I thought Menelik the last two weeks has played a lot better in the pass game."
Joseph said he also believes the Broncos have already faced their share of the league’s best rushers this season because many of them reside in the AFC West. Of the 12 players in the league who have at least four sacks in the first four weeks of the season -- the Broncos’ own Von Miller is one of the 12 -- Denver has faced three of them in the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence (the league’s sack leader at 7.5), the Chargers’ Melvin Ingram and the Raiders’ Khalil Mack
The Broncos have also faced the Bills’ Jerry Hughes and the Raiders’ Mario Edwards -- each has three sacks this season. In the three games following their bye, the Broncos will face the Giants’ Olivier Vernon, the Chargers’ Ingram as well as Joey Bosa -- again -- and the Chiefs’ Justin Houston.
“When you’re playing special rushers, they’re going to win some also," Joseph said. “We’ve done a good job with chipping the dominant rushers and helping our guys, and also blocking the one-on-one from time to time. You’re not going to block Khalil Mack and Jerry Hughes -- those guys one-on-one. The two guys ... with the Chargers, you’re not going to win all the time with those guys. They’ve competed hard and we’ve helped them some."
The bottom line is how the tackles fare when they aren’t getting help from a tight end or running back. Quarterback Trevor Siemian has already been sacked 13 times and taken several more hits in the pocket, and that’s not a pace the Broncos want to keep the rest of the way.
“I think I’m just looking for consistency," Bolles said. “One play at a time, that’s how I look at it. But I don’t want anybody to get to my quarterback, I take that personal. I want to do everything I can to do my job."