With these words spoken by Commissioner Roger Goodell, John Elway selected the first offensive lineman in the first round in his tenure as the Broncos General Manager. While this was perceived as a ‘weak’ offensive tackle class by team and media scouts alike, the Broncos were beyond thrilled to land Bolles with their first round selection and entrench him as starting left tackle going forward into training camp.
Bolles, a soon-to-be 25-year-old rookie, is still raw for the position, having only played one season of Division I football. He came from Snow College to Utah just a year prior where he switched from defensive line to offensive tackle.
Despite only having one year of starting experience at Utah, Bolles put together multiple impressive performances against some of the strong competition the Pac-12 has to offer — including USC, Washington, and Colorado. However, in my opinion, Bolles’ signature game came back on October 22nd, when the Utah Utes took on the UCLA Bruins.
This game was particularly impressive due to the fireworks display the Utah run game put up, as well as Bolles’ match up with recent first-round selection of the Atlanta Falcons Takkarist McKinley. While Bolles did not win every matchup he had that Saturday, he did flash well enough on tape that more than warranted a first-round selection and should excite the Broncos organization.
On this play, Bolles, left tackle No. 72, is lined up with McKinley across from him on a 1st-&-25. Utah is in shotgun with four wide receivers on the field as they often are being a team that mainly runs spread concepts on offense. Bolles, likely anticipating a speed rush to his outside shoulder, begins his kick step cheating ever so slightly to the outside in an attempt to negate the quick-twitch pass rush that McKinley brings to the table.
Instead, McKinley attacks Bolles’ inside shoulder in what appears to be a stunt with McKinley and the defensive tackle. Bolles does a good job quickly identifying that the rusher is attacking his inside shoulder and works himself back into position to be in front of the rusher. Bolles likely was supposed to ‘pass’ the edge rusher to the left guard, and take on the sweeping defensive tackle, but given the penetration that McKinley generated, Bolles could not abandon his block to expose the quarterback to pass rush in his face.
Analysis: He gave his mobile quarterback a chance to escape the pocket and flashed some of his ‘bully’ mentality, driving McKinley into the turf. Bolles will need to get a bit stronger on that inside leg to not give up so much penetration, and may have struggled more here versus a stronger rusher, but he did enough here to win the rep.
On 3rd-&-24, UCLA only rushes three players and drops the rest into coverage. With no one to block immediately, Bolles instead puts his head on a swivel and does what offensive line coaches’ call “look for work.” With no obvious defender to block, Bolles finds his teammates doubling the edge rusher and comes in to give him the business as well. As the quarterback attempts to escape the pocket, Bolles sticks on the edge rusher and has his hands on him until the play is dead.
Analysis: While there is not as much technical to point out on this play, again it is worth drawing attention to Bolles’ demeanor and attitude on a snap-to-snap basis. Not every offensive lineman has the bully mentality that Bolles displays on tape regularly, and it makes a difference for the offense over the course of a game.
On this 2nd-&-9 with the clock winding down in the first half, Bolles is put in a one-on-one blocking assignment with McKinley. At the snap, McKinley shows a strong get-off quickly getting up field in a hurry. Bolles is right there with him, displaying a smooth kick step with adequate depth and excellent lateral agility. When first engaging, Bolles does appear to somewhat bend at the waist for an instant when his hands engage with the defender, a large no-no for offensive lineman, but is able to maintain his balance and ‘mirror’ the edge rusher and keep the quarterback clean.
Analysis: Even when McKinley attempts to redirect and attack Bolles inside shoulder for a better angle to the quarterback, Bolles mirrors well with proper footwork and great athleticism to stay in front of McKinley. Bolles was not often asked to sustain blocks for slow developing pass plays for Utah, but plays like this should instill confidence that Bolles has what it takes to pass protect at an NFL level.
On this play Bolles and the left guard, Isaac Asiata, make up for the misplayed stunt from earlier in the game. Here they work in tandem to double the edge rusher attacking Bolles’ inside shoulder and transfer him over to the left guard. Bolles then shows both awareness and agility to shuffle his feet over to cut off the looping defensive tackle.
Analysis: Bolles shows off quick, choppy feet and maintains balance as he puts himself in perfect position to negate any threat the stunt imposed. Denver's left tackle and left guard from last season, Russell Okung and Max Garcia, did work well in tandem on many instances last year (mostly in run game) but consistently struggled with stunts and delayed blitzes. With Ronald Leary playing left guard this season and Bolles manning left tackle, expect the Broncos to better handle stunts in 2017.
The next two plays are borderline pornographic for fans of physical and athletic offensive line play. On this play, Bolles and Asiata both pull to open up a “Moses parting the Red Sea” level gap for the tailback. On this play, a well blocked play by the entire Utah offensive line, Bolles shows off his superior athleticism and angry run blocking style that earned him a first round selection. Here, Bolles presses closely to the offensive line as he pulls and blasts through the gap between the tackle and the tight end.
Bolles does a great job remaining balanced and in control as he quickly identifies and plants his ‘target’ into the turf. Many offensive linemen, even in the NFL, are not athletic enough to make this play or would arrive at the safety out of control and missing the block. This is not the case for the supremely athletic tackle, as he arrives perfectly and destroys the Bruin safety.
Analysis: The Broncos will be switching to a more power based scheme this year as the offensive line transitions from Gary Kubiak’s zone to Mike McCoy’s power, so expect to see more power concepts involving pull blocks with the offense this year. Furthermore, while not directly applicable to this play, McCoy’s offense also utilizes a decent amount of screen passes to give the ball to the athletes in space. Watching this play, it is easy to imagine Bolles running outside the hash marks and delivering huge blocks to spring Demaryius Thomas open for big plays. Some ‘juice’ for a dried up offense.
On this final play, once again Utah utilizes the double pull power concept with the Bolles and Asiata hugging the offensive line and exploding up through the C-gap outside of the right tackle's seal block. Bolles shows off his athleticism and balance as he glides effortlessly behind the offensive line and turns up field into the face of a poor defender. Bolles arrives once again in control and not only seals him out of the play, but sustains the block another five yards down the field as the defender finally succumbs and is driven into the Earth.
Analysis: Bolles is at his best when he is going forward and blocking downhill, and it shows with these last two plays as Bolles is able to show off his athleticism and spatial awareness as he delivers crushing second level blocks that would spring the Utah back Joe Williams to a career day.
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While Garett Bolles did not have a ‘perfect’ game against UCLA, he flashed the athleticism, tenacity, and skill-set to garner a first round selection. If Bolles had been younger or had more than one season of tape at the Division I level, I have little doubt that he would have been a higher selection in the draft.
Bolles does have flaws to his game; he will need to continue to get stronger and add core strength, he will need to clean up his pass set technique, and he will need to clean up his penalties, but it is hard not to be excited watching his tape. He has the demeanor, the frame, and the athleticism to grow into a very solid starting tackle at the NFL level.
It is up to the Broncos coaching staff to develop and put Bolles in the best situations to succeed, but given proper development, there is little reason to believe he won’t succeed. The Broncos absolutely needed to become more athletic, more talented, and more nasty up front and with the selection of Bolles, they may have done just that.
Nick Kendell is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. Follow him on Twitter @NickKendellMHH.