Garland still dreams big for Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- See a need, volunteer to fill it.

It seemed like a pretty simple equation for Denver Broncos offensive lineman Ben Garland.

"Initially when I went back on practice squad [last season], I was back in the defensive line," Garland said. "But there were some injuries and I said 'hey, I'll jump in on offense' as just a guy to help out while we had some guys down, get some additional reps."

That is a snapshot in a storybook album of how a guy went from two years of active duty in the Air Force, to two years on the Broncos' practice squad, to a back-and-forth move from defense back to offense back to defense, and finally to a spot on the Broncos' 53-man roster as a backup left guard.

"I just believe that you work hard, continue driving toward your goals, you'll reach them," Garland said. "And even if you don't reach them, for whatever reason, you're going to come out a better person for struggling to achieve your goals than if you would have just stayed where you were."

Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said the team believes Garland has the qualities to become "a very good offensive lineman."

"Ben is just a guy that's got that determination like no other and when he moved over from the defensive line to the offensive line, he's very bright, he's tough, and just worked his tail off to earn a spot on the team," Elway said. "So he's just going to continue to get better and better too because he hasn't been over there ... ."

The Air Force and the U.S. Department of Defense have worked with Garland as part of the Palace Chase program, which allows officers and airmen to transition into the reserve and hold a civilian job after two years of active service. Since his two years of active duty, Garland has served with the 140th Wing of the Colorado Air National Guard.

Garland said it was Broncos strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson who first broached the idea of switching him from defense to offense. Garland also spent much of last season in a small group of practice squad linemen who worked with former offensive line assistant Alex Gibbs after practice each day.

This year he came to training camp exclusively as a guard and worked there throughout camp, including a hefty last look before the roster cutdowns in which he played 63 of 66 offensive snaps in the preseason finale against the Dallas Cowboys.

"I just kept my head down," Garland said. " ... It still doesn't feel real to me. I'm going to work as hard as I can. My next goal is the become a starter, to be the absolute the best offensive lineman I can be."

When he graduated from the Air Force Academy and arrived at that first Broncos training camp, Garland was poised to enter pilot training but was unable to secure a weight waiver to fly at his football weight. So he served his active duty as an instructor in hopes football could still come calling later.

During Garland's two years in active duty -- a year as an instructor at the Air Force Academy and a year as a public affairs officer for the 375th Air Mobility Wing at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois -- he would often work out twice a day, the first session at 4 a.m. Looking back, he said there were questions about his NFL pursuit bouncing in his own head.

"You always have those tough days, especially those days having my alarm clock go off at 4 in the morning for my workout before work and then go to my workout after work," Garland said. "You're thinking I have a great career here in the Air Force. It's tough for people to become an officer, not a lot of people get this opportunity. Why would you give that up for this small, small chance that you could ever make it in the NFL? Being an officer or this tiny, slim chance of the NFL? But once you decide to go for your dreams you have to go after them.

"And I love the Air Force, it will be my career when football is over. But right now I like to say I get to wear the two best uniforms in the world and I'm proud to wear them."