Rookie Max Garcia a key player to watch in preseason opener

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Of the newest Denver Broncos lugging around high hopes, Max Garcia may have the biggest adjustment to make as he plows along the NFL learning curve.

Sure, Garcia had 37 starts in his 39 games combined at the University of Florida and University of Maryland. And he showed some versatility, starting games at left tackle, guard and center, including all 13 games at center for the Gators in 2014.

But right now the Broncos are asking Garcia to be a starter, at left guard, as part of a rather extreme makeover in the offensive line. And Garcia is being asked to play that position in an offense that doesn’t look anything like the one he was in for the Gators, in front of a future Hall of Famer at quarterback for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations.

Garcia will get his first opportunity Friday night in the Broncos’ preseason opener in Seattle.

“Max is up and down,’’ Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “Max is very strong, heavy-handed, so he has a lot of plays on film that are highlights. You go, 'Whoa, look at that,' but he has a lot of plays on the film that need to be better … good kid, played in a lot of big games. This stage isn't too big for him, but he has to learn to play against great players down in and down out.’’

After trying several combinations in the offensive line during their offseason program as well as the early days of training camp, the Broncos settled in, at least for the past week or so, on a look with Garcia at left guard, rookie Ty Sambrailo at left tackle, Matt Paradis at center, Louis Vasquez at right guard and Ryan Harris at right tackle.

Since Sambrailo and Garcia are rookies while Paradis spent his rookie year in 2014 on the Broncos’ practice squad, that side of the team’s offensive line has zero career NFL starts. The Broncos have been committed to Sambrailo's presence in the starting lineup, almost since the moment Ryan Clady suffered a season-ending ACL tear in late May.

But Garcia and Paradis will have to hold their depth chart ground in the coming weeks, including Friday night against the Seahawks, to start in the regular-season opener Sept. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens.

Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison have each said they would be willing to make adjustments days before the opener, but the team would prefer to have things solidified. And if the current alignment fares well enough for the Broncos coaches to keep it together moving into next week, it would be a quality step toward some much-needed cohesiveness.

Garcia, too, knows he has to do his part in that equation.

“Just prove that I can be a consistent player … just execute on every play; not having a great play then having a not-so-great play on the next,’’ Garcia said. “ … Just getting to know how we all work together and continue to build that chemistry.’’