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Vic Fangio on Garett Bolles’ starting job: ‘It’s his to lose.’

The Denver Broncos cupboard on the offensive line is quite bare, which means that it will be Garett Bolles’ job to lose in 2020.

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

When the Denver Broncos drafted offensive tackle Garett Bolles with the seventeenth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft they were hoping to land a cornerstone piece at left tackle. However, it has been a bit of a mixed bag with Bolles through his first three seasons.

#72 Garett Bolles
Age 28. 6’5”, 300 lbs.
College: Utah

He enters 2020 as the longest tenured Bronco player on the offense, but that status may be short lived if he doesn’t significantly improve his play by next year. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad for Bolles heading into this season.

The good

The good here is that Bolles still has an opportunity to prove he can play well in the NFL. He has been incredibly durable in his career starting all 48 games in his career so far. He enters 2020 with a lot to prove and under Mike Munchak the word is that he is getting better.

Head Coach Vic Fangio was asked if Bolles can take a step forward this season and he said that Bolles had already begun to take that step forward late last season.

“I think he took a step last year during the season,” Fangio said this week. “He played better the last half—the last third of the season—than he did in the early part of the season. I think he’s had his best offseason as far as where he’s at. He had a really productive offseason as it comes to physical workouts. I think he’s in a better place mentally and emotionally than he’s ever been in in this time of the year. He’s got Mike [Munchak] coaching him now for the second time, second season in a row, which I don’t think he had previously in his career. I think we all sense that he’s in a better spot in all areas than he has been in his past. He’s gotten bigger. I think he’s gotten more knowledgeable. I think he’s ready. Can I guarantee it? No, we’ll all see when we start playing real games, but I’m cautiously optimistic.”

There is one other resource that agrees with Fangio on Bolles and that was Pro Football Focus. They called Bolles the teams most underrated player having graded Bolles out to be the their best offensive lineman in 2019. However, the caveat there is that John Elway - presumably with input from Fangio - declined to pick up Bolles’ fifth-year option for 2021 back in May.

Dalton Risner was asked about Bolles this week too and he also praised the fourth-year veteran on his improvement.

“I think Garrett has worked extremely hard. Him playing better at the end of the season is a testament to his hard work. I think something that people need to remember is Mike Munchak. That’s a factor that we need to remember. That guy is a Hall of Famer and he has a Gold Jacket. He’s probably going to have two Gold Jackets before he’s done with football. I truly believe with the way Coach Munchak coaches, it’s perfect for Garrett. He’s going to call Garrett out when he needs to be called out, he’s going to uplift Garrett when he needs uplifting and he’s going to teach Garrett. He knows how to teach the game because he’s done it. In fact, he’s got a Gold Jacket from doing it. I think Garrett has worked extremely hard and Garrett has a great work ethic. He continues to work hard. He’s got a passion for the game, and I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Garrett. I love that man, but I also think Mike Munchak helps him a ton. The more he gets time with Coach Munchak, the better player he’s going to be. You will probably see a whole new Garrett Bolles this year. A lot more of what you saw the last five games of the season.”

If Risner thinks we’ll see a whole new Bolles, then perhaps declining the fifth-year option was exactly the kind of motivation that would set a guy like Bolles on fire. It’s a contract year now. We’ll have to see for ourselves beginning next month.

The bad

Whew, where to start? Let’s start with penalties. Late last season when Bolles was charging through a few games without a penalty and comments arose that he had “finally figured it out”, I went back to look at his penalty history and found a disturbing trend. Bolles is streaky with those penalties.

If you look at that post data, you can see where he would have penalties in bunched with groups of games of few to no penalties. I looked at his final three games, since those were not included, and found that Bolles had 3 penalties there. So he was starting to pick up again.

Ignoring whether a penalty was accepted or declined, Bolles committed 17 penalties in 2019. He now has 44 penalties in 48 games. That is easily the highest in the league since 2017. He has ranked in the Top 5 in penalties in each year he has been in the league, with the 2019 count being the highest number of fouls yet.

Final word

I think this will be Bolles’ last year in Denver regardless of how well he plays. Given the market for left tackle, he’ll likely sign a fairly big contract in 2021 and it wouldn’t make sense for the Broncos to pursue that.

If he has a fire lit under him in 2020, then at least Denver will see Bolles’ full potential and not have to worry about Drew Lock getting constant pressure on his blind side.

When asked if Bolles will have any competition in camp, Fangio pretty much said all we need to know about who will be starting at left tackle for Denver this season, “Right now, to be honest with you, I would have to say it’s his to lose.”


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