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Broncos offensive line grades: Garett Bolles

Was Garett Bolles able to bounce back from his injury and play at a high level for the Denver Broncos in 2023? Let’s find out...

Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Garett Bolles missed the last 12 games of last season due to a broken leg. Before that injury, it was my opinion that he took a step back after the team moved on from Mike Munchak, but I still thought he was on pace for a decent year. We never got to see how 2022 was going to play out for him, but we did get a full season out of him in 2023.

And how did he do? I say he played very well. But we’ll be taking a look at the specifics of how Garett Bolles returned from a brutal injury and had his best season of NFL football yet.

Preseason expectations

I was unsure of where to stand on Bolles heading into the 2023 season. We know him from his previous six years as a good lineman who is fairly inconsistent in his play and underperforms in the passing game. He did take a massive step up in play when Mike Munchak took over as offensive line coach in 2019, but when Vic Fangio and his staff were fired to make way for Nathaniel Hackett, Bolles returned to pre-Munchak form. After Munchak left, Bolles reverted back to his holding ways, as well as just a general “meh” level of play.

It’s safe to say that I was not expecting a lot out of Garett Bolles this year, and I don’t blame myself for thinking that. I was expecting more mediocrity and inconsistent play with flashes of greatness mixed in with plenty of stink.

Regular season reaction

I was wrong about Bolles. And I am so happy that I was. I don’t think it’s a hyperbolic statement to say that Bolles had his best year as a professional lineman yet, and he has sparked plenty of optimism for the future of his career. He deserves a lot of credit for not only returning from a horrible injury, but returning in the manner that he did. But, I also want to take a moment to talk about the job that first-year offensive line coach Zach Strief did.

Strief was a former Saint that was their assistant offensive line coach for two seasons (2021-22) before he signed with the Denver Broncos. He played for New Orleans from 2006-2017, so Sean Payton was familiar with him, but was still taking a chance on the hire as Strief had yet to be a head-offensive line coach. Strief had the best run blocker in the league with Meinerz, had Lloyd Cushenberry play his best football yet (we’ll talk about that soon), and had a career emergence out of Bolles. Hats off to him.

Let’s get back to the year Garett Bolles had though.

While Bolles still played with some bad habits he has shown throughout his career, he reduced how often they showed up or how much they would negatively affect a play.

An example of this is how he likes to turn his shoulders too soon when in pass protection. It isn’t league-wide, but there is a decent chunk of tackles that are taught to turn out to the defender once they reach the depth that the quarterback is at (Personally I hate this because in my experience as a coach, more often than not a player will turn too early. He is more likely to turn at the proper time when you teach them to keep their shoulders square to the line of scrimmage for as long as possible).

While there were still plenty of examples where Bolles would turn too soon, most times he was either able to run the defender passed the quarterback, or he would be able to recover quickly if the defender tried to step back inside. Here is a great example against Myles Garrett of the former:

PFF would grade Bolles’ pass blocking at 83.8, which is good enough for 6th among Tackles on the year. He also had a six-week stretch of not giving up a QB hit or sack, and he had numerous weeks were he didn’t even give up a pressure. His pass blocking was much improved this season. He also got called for holding a lot less than usual.

Another aspect of Bolles’ game that I enjoyed this year is how he seemed like a more physical presence in the run game than he has been in the past. There was a lot more examples of him finishing blocks, keeping a good base, and really working the fundamentals.

He just looks meaner. And that is a great thing to see as an offensive line coach. It’s hard to teach a mindset. It’s something that typically takes time. So I would guess that this was an emphasis throughout the offseason.

This might be my favorite clip of him on a run play:

As a lineman, there is nothing like manhandling the guy in front of you like how Bolles does here. It’s the best.

Now, his run blocking was not without flaw. I think the most common mistake would be not having proper leverage or body positioning and that would allow for the defender to slide off the block and into the running lane. That hurt to watch at times. But overall, he was good.

Final grade

If Garett Bolles and Zach Strief are able to keep this up, then I want Bolles around for a while. He is a dependable tackle on the blind side. That’s something that is very hard to come by in the NFL. He is a leader on and off the field and a great presence to have on this team. I am all in on Garett Bolles now.

Pass Blocking: B

Run Blocking: B-

Overall grade: B


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