ENGLEWOOD, Colo—Although it doesn’t seem like it, this is the sixth year offensive guard Ben Garland has been affiliated with the Denver Broncos. He was originally signed as a college free agent in 2010 by Josh McDaniels, but has found a way to stick around, mostly by way of the practice squad.
But the Grand Junction native finally cracked the active roster in 2014, earning a spot on the 53. Garland’s story is unique. The Air Force Academy graduate had to fulfil his military commitment, before he could pursue his lifelong dream of playing for the Broncos.
He has done that and more, leading the way in the community and being named the team’s 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year. It was a major accomplishment for him to make the final 53-man roster last year. But he’s not content with that. He’s eager to start and excel in the league, as he opined earlier this week from Dove Valley.
“Very eager,” he said. “When I was very first signed as a rookie, that’s all I wanted. I wanted to start for the team, just really contribute out there and to become a Pro Bowler. Those are my goals.”
As a former defensive lineman, Garland understands the process that goes on in the minds of the guys on the other side of the line of scrimmage. And he believes that it gives him an advantage.
“It helps a lot to be from the other side,” he said. “You kind of understand the way that they’re thinking, and that really helps you defend against them.”
Much has been made of the Broncos switch back to the offensive identity that helped them win back-to-back Super Bowls in the ‘90s. For the 6-foot-5, 308-pound Garland, he sees himself as a natural fit in the zone blocking scheme.
“I love the zone scheme,” he said. “It’s more lateral movement, quick, being smart and being able to move quickly and get out on blocks.”
Garland’s 2014 teammate, Will Montgomery, now with the Chicago Bears, has been an open book and available to share his wealth of knowledge playing in the ZBS. Garland leaned on him when he was in Denver for tips and instruction and has even reached out for advice since Montgomery left.
”[C] Will Montgomery took a lot of us young guys under his wing. He said, ‘I’ve been here for nine years, 10 years. Here are some tips. Apply that to your game.’ That was a huge help.”
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Garland continued, “I’ve talked to Will Montgomery, he played here last year. I think he taught me a lot because he used to be in the zone scheme for a long time. To be able to pick his brain about what’s helped him and different techniques and what to work on, that’s really helped me.”
Arguably the biggest factor that could lead to Garland succeeding in the ZBS, is his experience with Alex Gibbs—the brainchild behind the innovative blocking system.
“It was key having Alex Gibbs," he said. "I don’t think I’d be where I am without his coaching and mentorship. I’d go into his office and just pick his brain. To be able to learn from the guy who essentially created the zone scheme, that’s really helped my progress.”
The Broncos reloaded their roster with young offensive line talent, drafting Ty Sambrailo and Max Garcia, while also bringing in several via the undrafted rookie free agent pool. For his part, Garland likes the additions and sees great things on the horizon for the Broncos O-line.
“Not only did we get some great draft picks, but we’ve got some great free agents in the offseason,” he said. “It’s going to be a thick competition and we’re going to have a great offensive line.”
For Garland, it doesn’t change his blue-collar approach every day. He’s of the singular mind of working hard to make the final roster, so he can help his team win.
“I’m going to bring my lunch pail and I’m going to work,” he said. “Every single day I’m going to work as hard as I can to get better, and hopefully I can make this team better because of it.”
Garland will likely compete for the starting left guard position with Shelley Smith and last year’s third round pick Michael Schofield. I’m really interested to see Garland work within the framework of the zone blocking scheme, as I believe it fits his abilities and style of play. This could be Garland’s year.