Amidst a rash of injuries, and a three game losing streak to kick off the season, there hasn’t been much for Broncos fans to get excited about.
However, one thing that has actually gone right this year, is the steps Garett Bolles has taken under Mike Munchak since last year.
Joe Rowles and I talked about this on this week’s episode of Cover 2 Broncos, and discussed the question of whether or not Denver should approach Bolles about an extension if he keeps this up.
Obviously, it’s still early and a small sample size, but I believe that if Bolles continues on this trajectory, Denver should absolutely look at bringing him back.
That’s another conversation for later down the line, though. Today, we’ll take a look at the areas where Bolles has shown the most improvement.
If you listened to the podcast or read my writings this offseason, you know that I have been pretty critical of Garett Bolles throughout his career, and pushed back particularly hard on the narrative that formed at the end of last year, that Bolles had experienced this jump in play, since he wasn’t called for holding.
I broke all that down in a film study this offseason, and showed how Bolles had not really improved his technique at all throughout the season, and was falling into the same bad habits that have plagued him his whole career in Denver. These technique flaws are what have led to Bolles holding issues.
I talk about how many fans and analysts have it backwards; Bolles holding calls are not his issue. His issue is poor technique, that leads to those holding calls, they’re a symptom.
The reason I start here, is that this was our baseline going into 2020. We knew what Garett Bolles primary weaknesses were, and so that was the biggest place I was looking for improvement from him.
I have to say, after reviewing the tape from the past three weeks, I have been impressed. Not because it’s perfect or he has magically transformed into an All-Pro, but because you can see conscious effort to incorporate Mike Munchak’s coaching, and clean up his biggest flaws, and it’s paying off on the field.
Hips and Feet
In 2019, and throughout his career, Bolles’ hips didn’t lie. They were his primary issue.
For the full in-depth breakdown, go back to the piece I wrote this offseason, but here is a small taste of what we saw.
Bolles far too often would immediately turn his hips at the snap and allow the rusher an open path to the edge, which would lead to him needing to hold to keep them off the QB.
This year, Bolles pass set has looked much better. He is making a concerted effort to stay square to the line as long as possible, and not open up too early.
Here are a couple of 3rd downs, and obvious passing situations where Bolles is asked to pass set, and he looks much more comfortable and confident so far this year.
We just weren’t seeing this level of consistency in his pass set last year.
In addition to his hips and feet, Bolles has also lacked a significant punch. Here he opens his hips a little sooner than you would like, but he maintains a strong inside hand and a nice punch with that right hand.
That’s definitely something I have noticed that is new about Bolles in pass protection is the emergence of this right hand punch. He’s timing it well, and is looking a lot stronger and more confident in it this year.
Here’s another one.
Now, it’s not all perfect, as I said. He still falls back into old habits occasionally. He got lucky that the play below wasn’t flagged.
Bowles is a sick, wonderful man pic.twitter.com/uBd8KdsjRB— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 30, 2020
But the mistakes are much fewer this year, and the consistency has been in the good pass sets, instead of the other way around.
Notice, I haven’t really talked about his holding calls (or lack thereof), because I don’t really care. His holding was/is a symptom of poor technique, and that is what is being cleaned up and improved upon so far this season.
I will say, the one call against Bolles on Sunday was absolutely not a good call, and shouldn’t be held against him at all. It was actually a great new technique that I haven’t seen from Bolles so far in his career. He definitely learned this from Munchak and implemented from his coaching.
This is what’s called a snatch/trap technique. If you have followed any of Brandon Thorn’s work on Twitter, he talks a lot about this. Tyron Smith is particularly good at this (see video below).
It’s essentially a way to use the rusher’s momentum against them, and get them off balance. I thought Bolles executed it well, and it was good to see him add a new tool into his toolbox.
Looks fine to me— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 30, 2020
He shouldn’t have been called for this, and is yet another reason not to just look at holding call counts.
Garett has also looked much stronger in the run game. He is pushing guys around, and playing with a lot more aggression and strength at the point of attack.
Overall, it’s been great to see Bolles take to the coaching of Munchak. This improvement isn’t an accident. It’s clear that he is consciously addressing issues he has struggled with in the past, and so far it has been paying dividends.