Not having Ja’Wuan James at right tackle for the upcoming season is not ideal for the Broncos’ offensive line.
Even Steve Atwater - who had defended the potential strength of the offensive line during the offseason - is slightly concerned.
“I think we definitely took a hit with the guy we paid a ton of money to and were counting on, but I respect his decision and know it was coming from a good place,” Atwater said on Broncos Country Tonight on Tuesday. “ But the outlook isn’t as high as it was.”
Adding that the Broncos are solid at guard with Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow, Atwater noted that all eyes will be on the tackles stepping up big.
“I’m hoping Elijah [Wilkinson] can step in on the right side and do a good job,” he said.
Co-hosts Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright brought a little more optimism by noting how high on Wilkinson the coaching staff has been - namely Hall-of-Fame offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
Edwards pointed out that if Munchak had felt he needed more depth at tackle, John Elway and Co. would have emphasized that in the draft.
Allbright, too, is fine trusting Munchak’s judgment.
“He’s very high on Elijah Wilkinson,” Allbright said, noting that he was so high on him that he would have started some games at left tackle last year had it not been for the need to fill in for James at right tackle. “We brought Munchak in to coach them up; let’s let him do his job.”
Atwater agreed that it would probably be good to add at least one other player at tackle, but he also believes the coaching staff must feel confident with the guys on the roster or they would have focused on the position in the draft.
“It does [shake my confidence],” Atwater admitted. “But do I feel Elijah Wilkinson can step in? I do. We’ve had some health issues with him as well. Fortunately he does have some playing experience. We’re just hoping for the best. ...I do think if he can focus on RT position and get it down pat, we’ve got the coaches to help. If Mike Munchak is cool with it, I’m good with it.”
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Elijah Wilkinson's viability at RT
Atwater’s bigger concern for this Broncos offense is developing chemistry and consistency on a fast-track since they have a new coordinator, a new system and a lot of new players.
The only way that can happen is with reps - something of a limited resource this year.
“You gotta get reps. That’s the only way chemistry is going to come,” Atwater said. “Once Drew Lock throws enough balls, and he sees who’s running the right routes, who’s in the right place at right time, who knows their plays...that’s when they’ll develop chemistry.”
The Hall of Fame safety also pointed out how crucial reps will be with head coach Vic Fangio, who runs a tight practice ship without a lot of rest in between those reps.
“They can go get lunch and play video games together, but that won’t develop chemistry,” Atwater added. “It comes from executing on the field and coming back and giving a chest bump and saying, ‘Hey man, that was executed perfectly!’”