ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos have tried patience, constructive criticism and a sliver of tough love for penalty-prone left tackle Garett Bolles. And now, after another rash of yellow flags in the Broncos’ first two games, the clock is ticking on the former first-round pick’s place in the lineup.
Teammates have tried to help Bolles, and Denver hired one of the best offensive line coaches in football in Mike Munchak to, among everything else on his to-do list, to help out the former first-round selection.
Bolles, who was the 20th pick of the 2017 draft, is really the only one who can fix it.
“Obviously it hurts us (Sunday) at different points in the game … you know a lot of times, even though we overcame a couple of them, they’re a drive-stopper,” said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. “We’ve got to be able to block our guy without holding.”
Even the guy who picked him in the 2017 draft, who has been one of Bolles’ biggest supporters — Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway — has had enough.
“Well, it’s got to stop. Period,” Elway said on a weekly appearance on Newsradio KOA (850-AM). “There are no more excuses for it. He’s had 26 holding penalties in the last two years and two games, so it’s got to stop. The bottom line is if he thinks he’s getting singled out, he is. He’s got to understand that. He’s got to understand what he’s doing. And that was my question (Sunday), ‘Does he know what holding is?’ Does he know what he can and can’t do? If he thinks he’s getting targeted, he’s got to realize he isn’t. We’ll keep working for it and he’s still a talented guy. He cannot do that because it’s beating us.”
Bolles has indeed been flagged for 26 holding penalties in 34 career games, including four times in the Broncos’ 16-14 loss to the Chicago Bears last Sunday. And this is certainly not a new issue with Bolles, who was highly penalized player in his one year at Utah.
He was flagged 15 times overall (three were declined) as a rookie in 2011, 14 times overall in 2018 (four were declined) and five times already this season (three have been declined). That’s 34 penalties and almost 450 yards walked off against the Broncos’ offense.
There is some feeling in the Broncos’ complex that if Elijah Wilkinson, who is Bolles’ backup and who worked with the starting offense plenty in training camp, was not already filling in for the injured Ja’Wuan James at right tackle, a move would have already been made in the Broncos’ lineup.
When asked Monday if Bolles could be taken out for a series or two in games at times when he was clearly struggling, Fangio said: “With our depth the way it is at this point, that’s probably not an option.”
James has missed the Broncos’ first two games with a knee injury and has not yet returned to practice. The Broncos initially expected his return to take four to six weeks, so that may now be the time frame Bolles has to figure out a solution before Wilkinson moves to left tackle.
Some with the Broncos also took notice Bolles seemed to point the finger at the officials at least some after Sunday’s game instead of at his own play.
“It was frustrating,” Bolles said. “I’ve built a reputation for myself in this league of holding. I disagree with it, to be honest. There are some calls I disagree with, and there are some things that I understand … But I have the best O-line coach in the National Football League with Coach Munchak … I’m going to turn this around. I promise you all that. I promise Broncos Country that. I promise my teammates that. That was just unfortunate that they keep coming after me, but it is what it is.”
Bolles added he thought he had done a “phenomenal job” improving from last season and that while he could improve his technique with his hands and footwork, added that “I’m not going to change my physicality, I’m not going to change my mindset.”
Former Broncos guard Mark Schlereth, who is a co-host on a morning radio show in Denver and worked Sunday’s Broncos game as an analyst for Fox Sports, has repeatedly cited Bolles’ “stubborness” in changing his technique and offered earlier this week on his show that Bolles “flat-out can’t play.”
“Obviously, I’m going to keep trying to talk to Bolles and see if we can get him right and understanding what he’s doing wrong because obviously to say that he’ll been alright is not OK,” Sanders said. “He needs to understand that he is doing something wrong because they keep throwing the flags on him and he keeps holding. I’m going to talk to him and hopefully we keep breaking down the film and just see him make that jump and get that debt off his back because it’s been happening for like two or three years.”
NFL players spoke, and Roger Goodell responded. Now what? Here’s what we know
An unprecedented week in the NFL culminated in a landscape-shifting 24 hours that appear to have dramatically changed the league’s stance on player protests. Things are happening quickly, and you surely have questions. Is kneeling during the national anthem OK now? Does Colin Kaepernick have a chance to get back in? What role do politics play in all of this? Let’s try and bring it all together.
In a video message released Friday night, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded to a video released Thursday night by a collection of NFL stars including Michael Thomas, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Goodell’s video included three specific statements the players in Thursday’s video had asked the NFL to make about racism, social injustice and peaceful protests.
“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all players to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe that black lives matter.”
The first and third statements matched, word for word, the first and third the statements the players asked the league to make the night before. The middle one didn’t quite match up with its counterpart. (The players had asked for “We, the National Football League, admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting.”) But from a forward-looking perspective, it did the job. Even if the NFL isn’t ready to admit “silencing” the Kaepernick-led peaceful protests of 2016 and 2017, Goodell’s statement indicates that the league plans to view any similar future protests differently than it did three and four years ago.
Why does this matter? Because the streets of American cities have, for the last 11 nights, been lined with protesters speaking out in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of the police. Because the past week in the NFL has seen virtual team meetings ignore football and focus on considerably broader world issues. Because the faces and voices speaking out about the issues that were at the center of Kaepernick’s protests look and sound different than the ones who backed him at the time.
“This is not a black problem,” Colts GM Chris Ballard said this week. “This is a white problem. This is an issue that we have to talk about, and we can’t surgarcoat it. We can’t go back into our bubble.”
“What Colin was protesting was something that should be respected by all humans,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Friday. “That did take a lot of courage. That is something that is 1,000% wrong and what he was trying to fix and bring light to. And gosh it was hard to bring light to the whole country because people didn’t want to totally hear it and it got diluted with so much different stuff.”
Things feel a lot different around these issues than they did in 2016 and 2017. Washington running back Adrian Peterson, asked Friday if he planned to kneel during the national anthem in 2020, said “Without a doubt. We’re all getting ready to take a knee together.” It didn’t cause a ripple.
Two days earlier, Saints quarterback Drew Brees was asked about the potential for player protests in 2020 and said, “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.” He was vilified by teammates and opponents alike for his insensitivity about the reasons for the protests and issued two separate apologies Thursday.
Imagine you were an NFL fan who fell asleep in May of 2018, right after NFL owners passed a rule that said players must either stand for the anthem or stay in the locker room until it’s over, and you just woke up this week to see all of this. You’d think you’d entered another dimension.
Given everything that went down between the time Kaepernick began protesting in 2016 and the day in May 2018 when NFL team owners tried to implement a restrictive policy on player protests, the league surely has more work to do to convince its players and the public it has really come around on this issue. But Goodell’s statement Friday said the league would “encourage all players to speak out and peacefully protest.” This allows us to look ahead to an NFL season in which players might be more emboldened than ever to speak out and stand up for what they believe and owners might be more reluctant to tamp down protests than to allow them.
Some questions that still linger on this for the next five months (and beyond):
The status of the rule that required players to either stand for the anthem or stay in the locker room until it was over is the same as it was when the 2018 season began. The rule is effectively in limbo, as the owners’ passage of it led into summerlong discussions with the NFLPA.
The result of those discussions was an agreement that the rule would not be implemented, and it has not been enforced over the past two seasons. No player has been fined for protesting during the anthem. Sources on Friday said the status of that rule remains unchanged as of now.
Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser discuss NFL players calling for change from the league, with Kornheiser ultimately saying he thinks Roger Goodell is thinking about kneeling in solidarity.
Could these developments lead to the return of Kaepernick?
It’s entirely possible that the circumstances that have brought about this week’s events — more players, coaches and general managers than ever speaking out, the commissioner issuing a statement in direct response to a request from his players, the protests that have broken out across the nation — could make an NFL team more likely to sign Kaepernick than it might have been before.
There’s little doubt at this point that a huge part of the reason no team has signed the quarterback since 2016 is because of the stance he took that year and concern over how people might react to such a signing. But if the league office is now openly condoning the kinds of protests Kaepernick initiated, and if franchise leaders are directly addressing the issues of police brutality and institutional racism that Kaepernick wanted to bring to light, it’s fair to think those concerns may have abated.
That said, I wouldn’t necessarily expect a repeat anytime soon of this past November, when the league attempted to organize a workout for Kaepernick in front of teams in Atlanta but it ended up being relocated and significantly scaled down because of disputes over how it was being administered and the injury waiver the league asked him to sign. There was a significant amount of anger on both sides about the way that situation unfolded, and it likely would require a significant reconciliation for the league office to issue that kind of olive branch again. It’s likely up to an individual team to give Kaepernick another chance.
Does the NFL expect this to get political?
It already has. President Donald Trump, who is up for re-election on the Tuesday of Week 9 on the NFL schedule, tweeted Friday that Brees shouldn’t have apologized for his Wednesday statement and used the words “NO KNEELING” in all capital letters.
Brees replied to Trump in an Instagram post Friday night, saying, “We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities. We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week. We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform.”
Whether Brees agrees with him or not, it’s fair to expect Trump to raise this issue again if players are kneeling during the anthem as the election gets closer.
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What effect will the coronavirus pandemic have on all of this?
Interesting wrinkle, for sure. At this point, five months out, there’s a chance that NFL games (assuming they are played at all) have to be played in empty stadiums or partially filled stadiums due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns.
Not to minimize the significance of the issues at the root of that, but it obviously would make it more difficult to compare the in-person fan reaction to the reaction the protests got in 2016 and 2017.
What will we hear from NFL team owners on this?
This might be the most important question still remaining. Several team owners, most prominently the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, have in the past taken strong stances against player protests during the anthem. Sources say that there was no formal discussions between Goodell and any team owners about Friday night’s video before the league released it (though Goodell does have conversations with owners on a daily basis and it’s likely it came up in some of those).
If there remain owners who are dug in on this issue — as there were in 2018 — there’s a chance things could get touchy in some places between now and September. But if this week has taught us anything, it’s that NFL players believe themselves to be in a position of unprecedented strength. And if a team owner is going to speak out against protests, it’s a safe bet that players on his team (and others) will speak out against him in return.
Drew Brees stands by apology over flag comments in response to President Trump
In a message addressed to President Donald Trump on Friday night, Drew Brees stood by his apology for earlier comments on “disrespecting the flag,” after Trump wrote that the New Orleans Saints quarterback should not have changed his stance.
“Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been,” Brees wrote on Instagram. “We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities.
“We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week. We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform. We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history! If not now, then when?
“We as a white community need to listen and learn from the pain and suffering of our black communities. We must acknowledge the problems, identify the solutions, and then put this into action. The black community cannot do it alone. This will require all of us.”
Brees’ statement came about six hours after Trump said Brees “should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag.”
“OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets. “We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag – NO KNEELING!”
Brees rekindled the issue earlier this week amid the national unrest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, for which one police officer has been charged with second-degree murder. Three others have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Asked what he would think if players kneeled this season to protest the death of Floyd and others at the hands of police, Brees said: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag.”
Brees’ reference of the flag, rather than the death of Floyd or the anguish of black people around the country, drew heated backlash from dozens of players across multiple sports. He apologized in multiple social media posts, but the issue remains raw among players throughout the NFL.
His latest statement in defense of players’ protests comes on the heels of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s message Friday in which he admitted that the league has erred in how it has dealt with players’ feelings toward police brutality, social inequalities and systemic racism over the past few years.
Minnesota Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph organizes essential goods drive with Timberwolves, Gophers
MINNEAPOLIS — Kyle Rudolph was 24 hours too late.
By the time the Minnesota Vikings tight end drove around Monday to look for places in need of organized clean-up efforts after looting and riots took place throughout the Twin Cities following George Floyd’s death, the 30-year-old witnessed his favorite element of the community he’s been a part of for the last nine years.
With broken glass and debris already cleaned up, the efforts to rebuild were underway. So when Rudolph pivoted to the idea of an essential goods drive to benefit residents like a woman named Stephanie, whose TV interview went viral after most of the stores near her home were destroyed, he chose to go to the area impacted the hardest.
Amid burned buildings and shopping centers shut down because of excessive damage, Rudolph held a donation drive on Friday in the parking lot of a now-closed Cub Foods near East Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis where residents from the surrounding area could receive non-perishable food and other essential items.
“I think today is a perfect example of how times are different because you don’t just have people here who have been directly affected by the problem,” Rudolph told ESPN. “You have people that are here from all walks of life. You have people that have never dealt with racism a day in their life yet they know it’s a problem, they want to be here to support and they want to be part of the change.”
Friday’s event, which saw a steady stream of hundreds come out as early as 9:30 a.m., had a handful of Vikings players on hand to help hand out donations. Rudolph was joined by Danielle Hunter, Adam Thielen, Garrett Bradbury, Aviante Collins, Chad Beebe, Cameron Smith and Jake Browning, all of whom were in attendance at Floyd’s memorial service Thursday.
Rudolph also sought the help of Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie, who was joined by coach Ryan Saunders and teammate Malik Beasley. Also on hand to lug cases of water and other goods from the donation stations to people’s cars were several members of the Minnesota football team and Gophers coach P.J. Fleck.
“What you’re seeing right now is a fair representation of Minnesota and what Minnesota can be,” Okogie said. “You see every different kind of race, ethnicity, religious (background) — it doesn’t really matter. We’re coming together. What I think is so symbolic of this whole thing is what we have right now is a whole bunch of hope, love, fun and opportunity. You look around and everything’s been destroyed. So if we can start right here and grow outwards, that’s what we have to do.”
Rudolph, who has previously served on the Vikings’ social justice committee which, among several of its initiatives, aims to foster relations between police departments and the communities they serve, believes the Vikings can continue to play a role in the fight against systemic racism and police brutality.
“To fix this, it’s going to take time,” Rudolph said. “It’s not something that when the protests stop, the change stops. It’s got to be something that’s sustainable. It’s got to be something that we can continue to do for years because just under 20 years ago I was in Cincinnati, Ohio, when Timothy Thomas was killed. There were riots and protesting and I never would have thought that just under 20 years later I would be still living in a similar situation. My hope is that 20 years from now when my kids are in their 20s, this isn’t a battle that they’re on the forefront and fighting.”
— Josh Okogie (@CallMe_NonStop) June 5, 2020
Across the Twin Cities, other teams are entrenched in efforts to give back. Minnesota Wild defenceman Jared Spurgeon made donations to six charitable organizations, including the Gianna Floyd Fund, Black Women Speak and WeTheProtesters, Inc., to benefit the Black Lives Matter movement and local rebuilding efforts.
Spurgeon, who is in Canada with his family, noted the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery will prompt him and his wife to have an open dialogue about race with their young children.
“I don’t think there’s any age that’s too early to start teaching it,” Spurgeon said. “Growing up I think my parents tried to do that with myself but as you grow older with yourself you start realizing there are more things that you can do for your own children.”
Spurgeon said he hopes to see the community-wide efforts continue long after the city is rebuilt.
“From here on out, it can’t just be a one-week thing or a two-week thing where everybody’s doing it,” Spurgeon said. “It has to be a continued trend where we’re all trying to be better and get everyone equal rights.”
Elsewhere, the University of Minnesota is hosting a “United Are We” community drive Monday in the parking lot the athletic department where donations of essential supplies, toiletries, diapers and other non-perishables can be dropped off from 8-11 a.m.
Earlier this week, the Gophers’ athletic department launched an initiative called “Listen,” a forum used to amplify the voices of student-athletes, coaches and others for an open conversation on race. The site has several aggregated posts from student-athletes social media platforms in hopes of fostering an honest conversation throughout the entire athletic department.
“It’s not just a time of talk,” Gophers associate athletic director for external affairs Mike Wierzbicki said. “We need to create action. There’s action to this, there’s learning and then ultimately what are our steps to go forward from here.”
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