In many ways building an offensive line is similar to an NBA team. In a perfect world you’d have two or three standout players surrounded by role players, though a more realistic hope is to have one stud, two guys who rate above average, an average role player and a guy you have to scheme around.
Ideally your Lebron James is at one of the tackle spots because of the value of the edge positions when it comes to pass protection, then you have a Kevin Durant on the other side with perhaps a Stephen Curry inside; a guy who has a clear hole in his game but is so good at what he does that it’s easy to put him in a position to succeed. Obviously this is a perfect world, but it gives you a rough idea of what you’d like to have up front.
So where does that leave the Broncos? Well, the best NBA comparison is perhaps the Detroit Pistons, where Matt Paradis and Ron Leary are very good players, but find themselves surrounded by subpar talent. Elway clearly recognized this issue, which is why he drafted Bolles in the first round a year ago. Alas, the rookie from Utah had a PFF grade of 68.8, good for 42nd among offensive tackles in the NFL.
Bolles was a strong run blocker, but he was worse than the Giants Erik Flowers as a pass protector. So what does this mean going forward? Let’s dive in.
The early struggles
I’ll be honest, I struggled most of the week to think of a positive way to spin Bolle’s first crack at the Chargers. Still am, to be honest so I’ll just cut right to the chase. His first game? It’s rough. He’s clearly out of his depth on basically all levels. The only reason he’s starting week 1 is because there is noone else on the roster with even some hint of the ability to do so. Bolles isn’t Ryan Clady, who stepped in as a rookie in 2008 and finished 3rd for Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. Far from it, really.
In week 2 some positives do start to shine through though. Bolles clearly has quick feet and does a decent job of readjusting in pass pro, even if he’s very susceptible to the bullrush. He does a better job anchoring against Dallas, although Taco Charlton and most of the Cowboys edge players are clearly a level below the Charger’s pass rushers. In the clip below you’ll notice the rookie (72) is able to slide back in, keep his weight under him and stonewall Richard Ashe (93).
One thing that became very apparent in the early games was that Bolles had a huge issue dealing with the unexpected. If a rusher was right in front of him? He did an okay job, even if he did get shoved back a good ways (an issue you’d hope his weight gain can help with). Designer blitz’ and gap exchange though? It was an issue, one that physical strength won’t directly address.
Did he improve as the season wore on?
The short answer is yes and no. There are sprinkles of good play, especially in the run game when he isn’t forced to make a decision at the second or third level (such as on stretch plays). When a defender is right in front of him, Bolles combination of length, size and quickness proves an asset for the Broncos ground game. What’s more? There are signs that he’s adjusting to gap exchange.
Issues remain though. The bullrush continues to give him issues, and because it’s such a problem, Bolles compensates and it leaves him susceptible to other moves. The play below is a perfect example. The Jets Josh Martin all but pushed Bolles into Siemian’s lap on the previous play and rushes Bolles again, but this time the rookie is ready for it, but leaves himself open to a push and pull, which Martin beats him with.
This is where Bolles athleticism shines through; he quickly resets his feet and stays in front of Martin. It shows both sides of the coin last year: Bolles has huge weaknesses, but shows the kind of promise that led Elway to picking him over more established players like the Saints Ryan Ramczyk.
Those holds though.
There is no doubt in my mind that this has to improve if Bolles is going to make anything of his career. Time and again I’ve seen Broncos fans defend him by saying that “well, he had holding issues but otherwise had a fine year,” which just isn’t true. He had other problems as well, but the holds were glaring and time and again shows signs where he’s beat in other ways. Whats even worse? There are numerous times on tape where he definitely SHOULD have been called, but wasn’t.
The play above looks a lot like many others that popped up throughout Bolles’ season, he got beat wide and rather than commit to fanning the rusher out and behind the quarterback (which would force the passer to step up in the pocket, but prevent flags) he reaches and gives what looks like a bad attempt at the bro hug, minus a pat on the back.
What’s most concerning about plays like this are that weight and strength gain will do very little to improve them. It will take a better understanding of game situations, decision making and adjusting on the fly, all things that appear to be clear weaknesses in Bolles’ game. Let’s hope an offseason to study the tape makes a difference.
I fear this will be the first GIF Horse that readers will hate me for, but I take pride in calling it like I see it and will do no less for you here. I think Bolles shows some traits you pray for in a left tackle, specifically his quick feet. That athleticism is something worth salivating over, and saved his bacon more than once last year. In addition, I think an offseason to gain weight, get stronger and hopefully learn from game tape will help clean up some of the sloppiness that cropped up time and again.
That said? I wonder how much his decision making will really improve. He showed signs of improvement as 2017 wore on, but I still found him a bit lacking in this department in the latter stages of the year, even against the Chiefs in week 17. Left tackles are routinely on an island and forced to choose the more immediate threat to the QB when an opposing coordinator calls a blitz or gap exchange. I question Bolles ability to do this, and thus wonder if he’ll ever grow into more than a toolsy liability.
I’ve often heard that pessimists believe they’re realists, and that may be the case here, and I will admit I’d love to be wrong. The Broncos desperately need their left tackle to provide some level of stability to Case Keenum’s blindside. Praying Bolles can grow into that guy.
Still Grazin’? A word or two.
As I’m sure you know, Anthony Bourdain lost his battle with depression over the weekend and just like many others on the interwebs I was pretty bummed to find out. I am thankful that events like this do shine a bright light on mental health issues that plague our society, even if it is just a temporary thing. But I hope this is an issue that people find a way to stay aware of moving forward.
Here’s the thing: if you feel as if someone you’re close to is going through a hard time? Reach out. Don’t wait for them to. Oftentimes someone suffering through a slump will isolate themselves, which only deepens the cloud they may find themselves swimming through. We have to look out for each other, even if that may feel awkward. Better that then find ourselves mourning a loved one.
Sorry for the rant, but hope you all understand where I’m coming from. Have a great week Broncos Country!