ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It was difficult to reconcile. Left tackle Garett Bolles arrived as a first-round pick with a bear's strength and a lizard's fat. He could move and boasted a nasty streak.
For three years, Bolles never missed a start, but fans rarely squandered an opportunity to boo him. He led the team in penalties in each season, saved from multiple benchings because of injuries at right tackle that left no viable options.
The Broncos declined his fifth-year rookie option in May, a move that surprised no one despite Bolles playing a premium position.
Then something weird happened.
Bolles entered the "GB Zone" this offseason, improving his power and sharpening his technique. And now in his second-year with offensive line coach Mike Munchak, continuity that cannot be discounted with Bolles admitting, “Me and ‘Munch' have a special relationship. We meet one-on-one before every game” — the former Utah star has blossomed. Not only has he emerged as the Broncos' best offensive lineman, but he has put himself in the conversation to receive a contract extension.
"I’m going to be honest with you, I really don’t (think about it). I’m here to play football. I have people to take care of that (in his agent)," Bolles said Thursday. "It doesn’t matter how you start. It matters how you finish. I started off rocky. I’ll be the first one to admit it. But it’s never too late to turn it around.”
Bolles is no longer a polarizing figure in Broncos Country. He ranks among the top left tackles in the NFL if you trust Pro Football Focus' grading system.
At 28, he has benefited from a confluence of factors, among them his heightened focus and coachability. Taking from XFL focus groups, the NFL recognized that penalties kill the viewing experience. This year, holding calls have dropped dramatically, a clear indication of the message sent to the officials. There are also limited or no crowds at games, allowing audibles to be communicated clearly.
Bolles, however, deserves deserves credit for making adjustments.
"The difference (this season) is my mental game. I had the physical tools," Bolles said. "I worked hard in the offseason. I am always my biggest critic. The difference was going back and watching film, seeing what I did good and bad, and fixing my mistakes."
Bolles credited the unusual offseason for sharpening his routine. He had his own weight room, and was able to stay dedicated to lifting and a strict healthy diet.
In a good spot physically, Bolles has benefited from experience given how light his resume was in high school and college. He was always a decent run blocker, and that remains the case. He has made a significant leap in his pass blocking.
In the past, he had a tendency to keep his hands outside, leading him to grab when beat. And one mistake bled into a bad drive or bad half. That version of Bolles has been absent this season as the Broncos enter their biggest game of the year, aiming to end a nine-game losing streak to the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Of course we are mad," Bolles said. "Nine in a row is unacceptable for an organization like this."
The nagging incompleteness of Bolles' performances has vanished. Now, watching the athleticism, the consistency, his position on the team makes sense. He's no longer missing that something required of NFL starters of a consistent protector.
“I think it’s a guy," coach Vic Fangio said, "going through the natural maturation process.”
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