ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Quinn Meinerz averts gazes. He creates stares, if not smiles.
On the first day of training camp, the third-round rookie from a Division III school bumped bellies with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to begin practice. Thankfully, he didn't send the veteran quarterback careening back into the locker room.
Quinn is known for his gut. He boasted it in college, looking like a man who had just polished off a buffet or was planning to go as a pregnant woman for Halloween. It's his thing, which is why he was a fan favorite at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He has since made a habit of pulling down his Broncos jersey, but the mask cannot hide the gut.
"It comes from high school. I went through a really big growth spurt from my freshman to sophomore year. I grew about four-to-five inches and gained 80 pounds. Of those 80 pounds, a chunk wasn’t great weight," said Meinerz, who will be featured on Denver7 Meet The Picks Friday at 6 p.m.
"During practice I always had my jersey tucked up. A bunch of guys started calling me the Gut. And I got the same nickname at Whitewater and through the Senior Bowl as well."
The belly makes for a great story. And he's used images of it to sell shirts benefiting a charity. But don't let the bod fool you. Meinerz is a physical brute whose potential suggests he will help the Broncos offensive line over the next few seasons. It might have been as a rookie had he stayed at his natural position. The Broncos don't need a guard -- Graham Glasgow, Dalton Risner and Netane Muti have that spot covered -- but sought competition at center.
So Meinerz spent June and the first week of camp learning a new position from esteemed offensive line coach Mike Munchak. There have been predictable hiccups on faulty snaps, but Meinerz's potential at center -- he will also play some guard -- is obvious.
"It’s completely different. Without having played a season in so long, my mentality is that I am going to be a sponge. Right now, I am ready to mold into whatever it takes," Meinerz said. "I know coach Munchak isn’t worried at all. He’s going to coach me up right. I have a lot of resources to get better. It is all on me to show up every day and work my butt off."
Rolling up sleeves has never been a problem for the effervescent Meinerz. He prepared for his DIII seasons by retreating to Canada, putting in Paul Bunyan workouts with trees, logs and propane talks. Videos of his lifting went viral during the NFL draft.
"It's what I had available on the island. You don’t get very many luxuries in the middle of nowhere. If you want to go town, it’s an hour plane ride and hour car ride or 2.5-hour car ride. You have to use what you have and be ready when you ever do go into town," Meinerz said. "Lifting propane tanks, lifting heavy objects, I am a big fan of strong man (competitions). What those guys do is lifting heavy stuff and putting it back down."
While his strength was never questioned, Meinerz's competition was. He mauled smaller opponents, but how would he fare against better players? Meinerz went to work in Texas with trainer Duke Manyweather, leaning out and working on his technique. He sent his tape to Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy. Eventually, with a little luck and a few dropouts, he won him over.
"We looked at Quinn. His posts were all right. A lot of it was about reshaping his body. He and I talked about it. I knew there was a good athlete in there," Nagy said. "He was training with Duke and the weight started to come off, his mobility was better. Nobody had draftable grades on him, but once we got into January, I thought this kid deserves a chance. He busted his butt. I decided to go with my gut on this one. I will never forget that call inviting him (to the Senior Bowl). You could hear him getting choked up. It was pretty awesome."
Meinerz showed up, playing nasty and strong, while looking comfortable at center. He broke his hand in practice, which limited him to one snap in the game. But he left a lasting impression.
"They defensive linemen were coming up and saying, 'That dude from that small school in Wisconsin is so strong,'" Nagy said.
Broncos general manager George Paton was sold. He liked Meinerz's love for the game, "and his physicality." Meinerz, however, might be more of a long play because of his college background and position switch. Lloyd Cushenberry is the clear starter at center. But watching Meinerz's joy each day it's hard not see him contributing somewhere.
His infectious personality makes him easy to root for. He always appears in a good mood. Maybe it's the belly or the tunes that fire him up. Meinerz is different. And that's a good thing.
"I like listening to Van Halen or any 80s pop," Meinerz said. "I can't wait to walk into (Empower Field at Mile High). That experience is going to be unlike any other. Coming from Whitewater, I think the most fans I have played in front of is 12,000. And that’s like max capacity of my stadium. It’s definitely going to be a completely different feel. Even the 12K at Whitewater was just electric. To have even more is going to be awesome. I am really exited to run through that tunnel again for a game."