The Denver Broncos have burst out of the gate to an early lead in the AFC West, going 3-0 to start the season. Led by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, there have been many bright spots on the team that prognosticators figured would struggle amid the losses of key personnel from the Championship team of 2015..
Denver has defied that prediction so far, boasting a team that is as complete as any in the NFL. The defense, which lost key members like Danny Trevathan, Malik Jackson and David Bruton, still continues to play at a high level, thanks to great team depth. Players like Todd Davis, Jared Crick, Will Parks and Justin Simmons have stepped in to contribute seamlessly.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1712530-3-keys-to-victory-broncos... The offense, which sputtered last year under Peyton Manning, was re-tooled in the offseason to better meld with Coach Gary Kubiak’s offensive philosophy. Trevor Siemian has come out of nowhere to win the starting quarterback job of the defending Champions.
The truth is, Siemian and others, like Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung, are better fits for the type of offense Kubiak deploys. With the offense looking like it has turned a corner in last week’s win in Cincinnati, the early returns have been promising.
Conversely, on a team that is loaded on both sides of the ball, the decline of second-year guard Max Garcia has been problematic. A talented guard/center drafted out of Florida in the fourth round of the 2015 Draft, Garcia filled in at both guard spots as a rookie for Denver, spelling aging veterans Louis Vasquez and Evan Mathis.
Going into this season as the full-time starter and looking to build off of his solid rookie campaign, Garcia hasn’t taken the next step in his maturation and has struggled. As noted by our own Chad Jensen and Luc Polglaze on the Huddle Up podcast this week, this has left some in Broncos Country wondering whether the time is right for Garcia to take a seat on the bench.
Should the Broncos keep Garcia in the starting lineup, or bench him? Let's examine the pros and cons of both arguments.
In his Hall of Fame speech, Russ Grimm was quoted as saying, “There’s no greater feeling than moving a man for point A to point B against his will.”
One of Garcia’s best attributes from last season was his great functional strength at the point of attack. 104.3 The Fan's Alfred Williams, among others, praised the former Gator for his ability to consistently gain leverage on opposing linemen and use his brute force to move them easily in the run game.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1712516-3-broncos-starters-ruled-... This year’s Max Garcia looks a bit bewildered by the zone-blocking scheme employed more prominently by the Broncos. The young lineman still gets fixated with blocking a defensive tackle one-on-one and rarely moves on to the second level to chip linebackers, or help out on double teams with his fellow teammates.
Numerous times Garcia has been out of position on pass protections as well, locking on to a stunting or slanting lineman, which allows a delayed blitzer to rush Trevor Siemian unopposed.
With capable players like Darrion Weems, Ty Sambrailo, or this year's fifth round pick Connor McGovern, waiting in the wings, it stands to reason that now would be the time to make a change in the lineup in order to get the unit acclimated to playing with each other and put the best five players out on the field. This would allow Garcia to give the mental side of his game time to catch up with his substantial physical skills.
The line is different than the other position groups on the offensive side of the ball in that continuity and chemistry are more important that individual play. Former offensive lineman and Denver great Mark Schlereth has stated that it’s more important for an offensive line to be like a closed fist, five parts playing as a whole.
While not being dismissive of Garcia’s below average play early in the season, it has been compensated by the stellar efforts of the players to his left and right — left tackle Okung and emerging center Matt Paradis. Paradis could even serve as a template for keeping Garcia in the starting lineup, as he had his own struggles early on last season, only to come on strong down the stretch and be the only Denver lineman to play every offensive snap.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1712470-mhh-predicts-broncos-vs-b... Going through those struggles last year has prepared Paradis to be the anchor on the offensive line today and those lessons could also help Garcia going forward.
The zone-blocking scheme takes a while for a player unfamiliar with it to get accustomed to it's details and we are seeing those growing pains in Garcia. However, he is still a better fit at guard than either Weems or Sambrailo and has more experience than the raw McGovern. The team is best suited going forward in keeping Garcia on the field as the starter for the time being.
Even 3-0 teams have problems and the Denver Broncos are no exception. While not everyone is hitting on all cylinders, the team as whole looks even deeper and more talented than last year's counterpart. It is scary proposition to imagine that a team can be undefeated almost a quarter of the way through the year and still have room for improvement.
Coach Kubiak has referred to the team’s identity as “a bunch of grinders” and you can bet that everyone will continue grinding in order to make sure this season ends the same way last season did, with another World Championship.
With continuity at stake, the Broncos are best served now keeping Max Garcia in the starting five. But it's a situation that bears close monitoring moving forward.
Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.
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