ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Looking back on it all, Michael Schofield can step back and take a little longer view of the experience.
And hindsight being what it is, maybe it doesn’t sting quite as much now or seem so end-all, be-all as it did last December. And the fact that Schofield has clawed his way back into the starting lineup for the Denver Broncos is a bit of a testament of football faith -- of Schofield’s in himself and the Broncos’ in a former third-round pick who had his worst vocational day on a rather public stage.
“No question, my worst day as a player," Schofield said this week, referring to last December's game against the Oakland Raiders. “You can’t get around it. I was there, everybody saw it. You can’t hide from that."
Schofield was that guy, the one in the light of football day who couldn’t seem to regain his balance at any point on a cringe-worthy afternoon when Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack carved up the Broncos' plans with five sacks, four of those coming against Schofield lined up at right tackle.
And three weeks later in the regular-season finale, Schofield again looked unsettled, this time against the San Diego Chargers' Melvin Ingram, who used inside moves to first force an interception with a hit on Brock Osweiler and later to draw a flag on Schofield for holding.
Yet here is Schofield, back in the Broncos' starting lineup, now at guard.
The Broncos pounded out 148 yards rushing in the season opener against the Carolina Panthers' accomplished defensive front seven last Thursday and showed the fruits of their offseason signings with Russell Okung at left tackle and Donald Stephenson at right tackle, where Schofield played last season.
Schofield, who played both tackle and guard throughout the preseason, started at right guard with Max Garcia at left guard. And the early reviews were that Schofield will stay in that spot even as Ty Sambrailo (elbow) and Darrion Weems (concussion) return from injuries.
“I think that’s probably his natural spot, to go inside," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said of Schofield’s move to guard. “We had some issues last year. We had to go to right tackle. I think Michael’s very comfortable in there. Just the fact that he’s played a lot of snaps next to Matt, now he gets to work next to (Stephenson), (that) should only help him. I think it’s a confidence level for Mike."
While confidence is most often associated with quarterbacks or cornerbacks, Schofield is quick to admit that the afternoon against Mack impacted him as a player.
That guy who had started games in front of more than 100,000 people at the University of Michigan and arrived to the Broncos as a draft pick who none other than John Elway said had the look of a future starter was suddenly shaken.
“I did, after that Raider game, I struggled with my confidence. I mean, that was tough. It’s not like everybody didn’t see it," Schofield said with a laugh. “But I had a lot of guys, experienced guys like (Tyler) Polumbus, Ryan Harris, tell me they had been in that situation, maybe not as bad as me that day, but the same kind of situation. But, yeah, confidence takes a hit, a big hit there."
Schofield said that the following week -- a 35-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers -- went better and he started the climb out from the game against the Raiders. He still had moments when he struggled, as did the entire offensive line in 2015. But the line as a whole rebounded for likely its best effort at the most opportune time -- in the Super Bowl 50 win over the Panthers.
The position got an extreme makeover in the offseason with the signing of Okung and Stephenson, as well as Schofield’s shift from tackle to guard and Max Garcia's move into the starting lineup. Center Matt Paradis was the only starter up front in Thursday night’s opener who started in the same position in the Super Bowl.
The Broncos tried plenty of combinations in the preseason, and at several points Schofield looked destined to be the swing tackle/guard. But injuries to Sambrailo and Weems gave Schofield a chance to show he could be a solution at guard, a position he played for one season at Michigan.
“I think every position on the field, confidence is huge," Schofield said. “And that’s the big thing for me; that, and the knowledge of the offense. I’m so much more comfortable than last year, I know what I’m doing, where I’m supposed (to be).
"I think last year, the times when I really struggled, I was overthinking, 'Is this right?’ or 'Am I in the right spot?’ My footwork and everything; I started overthinking way too much. You can’t play like that. You can think about what you need to do and what is happening around you, but you can’t be there thinking, in that moment, about every little movement. You have to believe you're in the right spot and that you can play."