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Rookie Max Garcia rebounds, regains starting job he lost in training camp

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak on rookie offensive lineman Max Garcia: "If Max continues to play at a high level, he's going to continue to get a lot of reps out there ..." AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos selected Max Garcia in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, coach Gary Kubiak thought Garcia was a smart player who would arrive to the NFL as a power blocker in the run game with the potential to develop into a starter at either guard or center.

What Kubiak and the Broncos have learned since (and is what they had hoped), is Garcia will put in the work and rebound from disappointment. The Broncos took a starting job away from Garcia as training camp drew to a close, and now as the Broncos being their stretch run, Garcia has worked his way into position to get it back.

"He’s worked hard," Kubiak said. "He had his turn, we took it away, it came back and he has taken advantage of it, so we just need to keep going."

Garcia was part of the youth movement the Broncos used in the offensive line through virtually all of training camp, a lineup that included Garcia, a rookie, at left guard, a rookie at left tackle (Ty Sambrailo) and Matt Paradis, who spent his rookie year with the Broncos in ’14 on the team’s practice squad, at center. The Broncos liked what Garcia showed in flashes, but there was some concern about him in pass protection as August drew to a close. The Broncos were working through the difficulties in constructing an offense that fit quarterback Peyton Manning and still included the things Kubiak wanted as well.

So, Evan Mathis was signed in late August and was the team’s starter at left guard in the regular-season opener. But injuries to Mathis, (first hamstring and now an ankle), and right guard Louis Vasquez (some knee trouble a recent groin injury), have put Garcia squarely back in the mix.

He has played both guard spots in the same game, and figures to start his second consecutive game Sunday in San Diego.

Vasquez and Mathis practiced on Friday, but they were limited at times during the week as Vasquez did not practice Wednesday.

"I’m just impressed with Max in general," Kubiak said. "He’s very young. That’s a big, big stage for him. We have a lot of young players being called upon to play well for this football team to get it to where it wants to go. I think that we’re all just excited for him, because he’s worked so hard and put himself in position and we’ll see. If Max continues to play at a high level, he’s going to continue to get a lot of reps out there, so far so good."

Following Thursday’s practice Vasquez, who was an All-Pro selection for the Broncos in 2013, spent time with Garcia after practice going over several pass-protection techniques. Kubiak said Vasquez and Mathis have helped Garcia along in recent weeks.

"Those young and smart guys, they watch these veterans," Kubiak said. "I mean, Evan is a great player and he’s been very successful in this league. If you’re a young player -- kind of like Brock (Osweiler) watching Peyton for all of this period of time. There’s no doubt in my mind that some of the things that he’s done these last two weeks is because of his ability to sit there and watch a great one do it. I think that Max has learned from Lou, learned from Evan."

Even with the injury issues the Broncos have had along the offensive line, the team’s run game continues to come around with at least 150 yards rushing in four of the past six games, and at least 170 in each of the past two.

For his part, Garcia has continued to say "I just want to take ownership of my assignments, get that done, that’s my starting point and really concentrate on my techniques being right. No excuses, I have to do things right. I go in wherever they ask me to go in."