When the move was announced, the onslaught of doubt and questions ensued.
All of it was predicated on health. “This move does nothing if he doesn’t stay on the field,” was the sentiment of many. When healthy, there is no doubt or question - he’s one of the best in the NFL at what he does. Therein lies the doubt and questions. Can he stay healthy?
We started to get glimpses that this partnership could work in training camp and the preseason. The initial hesitation and trepidation gave way to confidence and encouragement. It was still guarded, but you allowed yourself to see the positive. To see what could be.
After the first two games of the season, any doubt and questions about Russell Okung are gone. He’s been an absolute beast at left tackle for Denver, and even that’s an understatement. One could argue he’s been the best free-agent signing in the NFL.
It’s still early in the season and most of the 2016 story is yet to be written, but there’s no need to wait for the story to catch up to what is clear right now. The Broncos offensive line is infinitely better than a season ago. As the season progresses and the unit gets more time together, it will only get better and better.
A huge part of that is the addition of Okung.
In the first two games, he’s locked down the left-side of Denver’s line. He’s been superb in both pass protection and run blocking.
@RussellOkung is a damn beast. He is flat out dominating on that #Broncos line.— Ian St. Clair (@IanStClair) September 18, 2016
As Pro Football Focus said after the 34-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts: “Denver’s offensive line was outstanding throughout the game, allowing running backs C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker to produce consistent gains on the ground, and giving QB Trevor Siemian a clean pocket to work from. LT Russell Okung was also excellent, earning an 84.5 run-blocking grade.”
For the Colts game, PFF gave Okung a 79.6. While he didn’t get a grade after the win over the Carolina Panthers, PFF did say that gameball goes to Denver’s offensive line.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s more proof Okung and the line is off to a great start.
After two games the Broncos are No. 4 in the NFL with 141 yards rushing per game. When you consider the front seven Denver faced in the opener, that’s even more impressive.
As I have said since March, as long as the Broncos offensive line is better than a season ago and they can run the ball, they will win a lot of games. They will contend for the Lombardi Trophy. The addition of Okung is a huge reason why that’s the case and will remain so.
What’s impressive about Okung is it’s not just his talent or what he does on the field. That was evident in walk throughs, let alone practice and games. It’s not his size, speed or strength either.
Like DeMarcus Ware, he’s a leader in the locker room. Despite the fact this is his first year with the Broncos, his teammates respect and look up to him. That speaks volumes to a player’s character.
There was a moment in training camp that epitomizes that. Okung was the first player on the field for a Saturday practice. You could see the perfectionist in him as he sharpened his technique on a sled before the session even started. Mathu Gibson stepped in and started to do the same. As he did, Okung gave him tips but also showed him.
Big @RussellOkung the first to step out from the locker room at #BroncosCamp. Working with Mathu Gibson. pic.twitter.com/qodNPnE52B— Ian St. Clair (@IanStClair) August 6, 2016
That moment highlighted why John Elway wanted him. It also showed how serious Okung is about ensuring Denver wins “from now on.”
There were serious questions about the offensive line as the season began. I was one of those who did the questioning after what we saw in the third preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams. It didn’t mesh with what I saw in training camp. I was caught off guard and reverted back to the, “Here we go again” stance on the offensive line.
In terms of Okung, it was the same way. People had to know if he could stay healthy long enough to make an impact.
After two games, not only is the Broncos offensive line vastly improved from a season ago, Okung has proven he’s one of the best free-agent signings of the offseason. There’s still a lot of football to play. Anything can happen, especially when it comes to injuries, as we saw with Donald Stephenson.
But as Denver hits the road for the first time this season, the initial hesitation and trepidation about Okung have calmed. There’s reason to feel confidence and encouragement when it comes to him and the offensive line.