BRONCOS

Where does Quinn Meinerz fit on the Broncos’ offensive line?

May 19, 2022, 4:04 PM | Updated: May 20, 2022, 6:47 am
Quinn Meinerz...
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

It’s a tale as old as time in the NFL: Player is drafted for one scheme, coaching staff changes after a disappointing finish, player must learn new scheme with new staff.

And in the case of Broncos offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz, he must do so while also grappling for playing time with a cluster of viable starters — including the one he replaced last year, Graham Glasgow.

Nathaniel Hackett vowed in January to install a zone-blocking-based scheme with outside-zone running as the core of the offense. He quickly plucked offensive-line coach Butch Barry from Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers staff to implement it.

“There are definitely some differences,” Meinerz said. “This offense is definitely predicated on more running the ball, running off the ball and being a lot faster and really trying to make the defense play the entire field.”

Power was at the core of Meinerz’s game last year. As is the case for many young offensive linemen, he did better clearing paths for the running backs than he did in pass protection. His promise was surpassed only by the cult-hero popularity he achieved with his palpable, protruding gut earning him the nickname “The Belly.”

But while he isn’t starting from zero in his second year, he must prove himself anew. And it’s not just about battling with Glasgow, who restructured his contract in January and had returned to the practice field by last month’s voluntary veteran minicamp.

“The way I approach it, I’m not going out to practice every day going, ‘All right, I’m competing against Graham today,'” Meinerz said. “No, I’m competing every day against myself. I’m trying to become my best version. We’re all competing.

“There’s tons of great offensive linemen in our entire O-line room, so, every day it’s a fight and every day it’s a challenge. But what keeps me motivated is battling myself every day.”

And when Meinerz speaks of having “tons” of linemen battling for spots, he’s not off-base.

***

IS THERE ENOUGH ROOM FOR EVERYONE?

For one thing, if you get enough interior O-linemen together, you’ll literally have a ton of humanity.

You also might have trouble squeezing them all onto a 53-man roster.

Consider the veterans competing with Meinerz for time at the three interior spots:

  • Glasgow: Six seasons, 18 starts at left guard, 27 at center, 34 at right guard
  • Lloyd Cushenberry: Two seasons, 32 starts at center
  • Dalton Risner: Three seasons, 47 starts at left guard
  • Tom Compton: Nine seasons, 44 starts, 16 at left guard, eight at right guard
  • Netane Muti: Two seasons, 4 starts at right guard

With Meinerz’s cross-training at center last year during training camp, he could be in the mix at center. He confirmed Thursday that he has been working on center-quarterback exchanges.

“I know the center thing will be picking up soon,” he said.

Even at right guard, Meinerz was the third man up last year. Muti started in relief of Glasgow twice in the first four games, and would have almost certainly gotten the call to replace Glasgow at Dallas in Week 9 if he had not been on the COVID-19 list.

Meinerz stepped into the lineup, flourished and held the job for the rest of the season. Muti did not return to the starting lineup until Week 18, when he filled in for Risner at left guard.

Both Meinerz and Muti will also have to face the challenge from fifth-round pick Luke Wattenberg, who seems cut from central casting for zone blocking: an athletic, 6-foot-5, 300-pounder known for his footwork. Meanwhile, Muti is a 315-pounder, while Meinerz shed approximately 10 pounds to get below 320 pounds after playing the 2021 season at nearly 330 pounds.

Meinerz played at nearly 330 pounds as a rookie. He worked to shed about 10 pounds in recent months.

“I was floating a couple of pounds under 330, and I kind of had a sense that this offense was going to be more predicated on speed, and I wasn’t happy with some of the positions I was in last year with some of the things that I was doing wrong,” Meinerz said.

“So, I kind of took it upon myself to lose some weight — I would say around 10 pounds. I’m trying to stay around 320, maybe a couple of pounds under. It’s kind of where I’m feeling the best right now.”

It also gives him his best chance of sticking somewhere on the offensive line in a scheme predicated on footwork, technical savvy and athleticism. Succeed, and a long career could await the suddenly-slimmer “Belly.”

***

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Where does Quinn Meinerz fit on the Broncos’ offensive line?