Broncos Position Preview: Along offensive line, focus will be on Garett Bolles, Ja’Wuan James

Eighth in a series previewing the Broncos’ position groups entering training camp:

Overview: The Broncos have devoted significant resources to their offensive line, including draft picks (first-round left tackle Garett Bolles, second-round left guard Dalton Risner and third-round center Lloyd Cushenberry) and big free-agent money (right tackle Ja’Wuan James and right guard Graham Glasgow). But there are multiple questions about the line entering training camp. Last year, the Broncos allowed 137 “disruptions” (41 sacks, 43 knockdowns and 53 pressures). Before the Sept. 14 opener against Tennessee, offensive line coach Mike Munchak needs to declare a starting left tackle (Bolles or Elijah Wilkinson) and a new center (Cushenberry, Patrick Morris or Austin Schlottmann).

Who’s back: Garett Bolles (LT), Elijah Wilkinson (LT), Ja’Wuan James (RT), Dalton Risner (LG), Calvin Anderson (T), Quinn Bailey (T), Nico Falah (G), Tyler Jones (T), Patrick Morris (C/G), Jake Rodgers (T/G) and Austin Schlottmann (G/C). Among this group, Risner was the most consistent last year as a rookie (only three “bad” run plays) while playing through a creaky ankle during the season’s second half. Morris, Rodgers and Schlottmann saw action late in the year because of injuries.

Who’s gone: Ron Leary (G, free agent) and Connor McGovern (C, signed with the New York Jets).

Who’s new: Graham Glasgow (RG, free agent from Detroit), Lloyd Cushenberry (C, third-round pick from LSU) and Hunter Watts (T, undrafted free agent from Central Arkansas). Glasgow was the Broncos’ big free-agent signing (four years, $44 million) and is a significant upgrade over Leary, who was regularly canonized by some in the Denver media despite being injury- (was unable to finish any of his three Broncos seasons) and penalty-prone (eight enforced flags last year). Glasgow’s experience and ability will help James at right tackle and Cushenberry at center.

Pressure’s on ..:  James. Signed to a four-year, $51 million contract in March 2019, James could never get out of the blocks, starting at Oakland (Week 1), at Indianapolis (Week 8) and at Houston (Week 14), but not finishing any of those games because of a knee issue. He played only 63 snaps. His contract calls for a $6 million “dead” cap charge ($8 million in savings) if the Broncos give up on him after this year.

Camp competition: Bolles vs. Wilkinson. This is Bolles’ last chance to show the Broncos (or another team) he can be a reliable left tackle. Last year, his 13 holding penalties led the NFL and his six accepted holding calls were tied for fourth. If there is a reason for optimism, Bolles had only two accepted holds in the final eight games so maybe Munchak’s coaching resonated. Wilkinson played 845 snaps last year in place of James. The expectation should be Bolles retains his spot for Week 1.

Key statistic: Two. Games last year in which the Broncos’ projected offensive line started together (Week 1 at Oakland and Week 8 at Indianapolis).

Quote: “We have great expectations with him coming back and being the right tackle for us and playing like he’s capable of playing.” — general manager John Elway on James.

Final thought: The Broncos should feel confident about their interior line (Risner, Glasgow and Cushenberry); they should secure a good pocket for quarterback Drew Lock. But there is uncertainty at tackle until proven otherwise.

Tuesday: Defensive backs.

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