Lloyd Cushenberry/Quinn Meinerz
Mike Munchak will have his hands full determining the starters on this offensive line for 2021. There will be competition at the Center, Right Guard and Right Tackle spots to see who starts. We will cover each position battle in depth throughout the offseason, but today we will take a look at the Center position.
Lloyd Cushenberry comes into OTAs with a clear advantage in this competition as he was the starting Center for all of 2020 as a rookie. He knows the scheme well now that he is in his second year in the league. Cushenberry is also familiar with the other projected starters on the offensive line, apart from Right Tackle. He also now knows what it takes to compete at the NFL level, after playing all 1,076 offensive snaps in 2020. However, this experience did not come without growing pains. The former LSU Tiger ended the year as PFF’s lowest-graded center among qualifiers. He allowed 4 sacks, tied for 3rd most in the league in 2020. So, even though Cushenberry has more experience, he will still have to earn his spot as the starter in 2021.
The man to potentially take that starting spot is the Broncos third round selection out of Wisconsin – Whitewater: Quinn Meinerz. Meinerz started to gain hype from his “let the belly breathe” mantra during the Senior Bowl. He showed he could hold his own against better competition, and from then on, his draft stock spiked. His power and explosiveness jumped off the screen to scouts, and the Broncos took him while they could with the 99th overall selection in the draft. Now, after playing Left Guard in college, Meinerz is attempting to transition to Center in the NFL. He will have an uphill road ahead of him, but the small-school rookie has already impressed some of his teammates in OTAs. Broncos Left Tackle Garett Bolles spoke to the media last Sunday and said of Meinerz, “Meinerz is a stud…He’s a tough kid, and he’ll punch you right in the mouth.” If the former Wisconsin – Whitewater guard can pick up the playbook quickly, he will be pushing Cushenberry for the starting job in 2021.
It’s tough to know how ready for the NFL Quinn Meinerz will be after only playing Division III football in college. We know he has the skills and strength to play against low level NFL defensive lineman because he showed that in the Senior Bowl, but how will he play when Pro Bowl Defensive Tackles line up across from him. Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs is one of those tackles. He just made his second consecutive Pro Bowl and the Broncos have to face him twice a year. We won’t know how Meinerz plays in those situations until potentially the preseason. However, the Broncos coaching staff will get to see how he plays in OTAs and training camp against players like Mike Purcell and Shelby Harris, who will be good tests for Meinerz.
What we do know is that Lloyd Cushenberry struggled mightily against good competition like Chris Jones last year. If he does not take a big step in OTAs and training camp, which he should, then Meinerz will be gunning for his spot.
One last thing to keep in mind is that the Center position is not only important from a physical aspect, but also from a mental aspect. The Center is the offensive line’s mind when it comes to making line calls and adjusting protection. So, it is crucial that he understands blitz schemes and adjusts accordingly. This is the other hard projection to make of Meinerz. From all accounts Meinerz is a smart rookie, but Cushenberry has the clear edge because of experience here. For maybe just this reason alone, Cushenberry may earn the starting role at the start of the season. Watch for Meinerz to make an appearance at some point in the season though if Cushenberry starts to struggle again in 2021.