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Broncos’ biggest position battle is right up front

August 17, 2020 GMT
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Denver Broncos assistant offensive line coach Chris Kuper, left, confers with center Patrick Morris as he takes part in drills during an NFL football camp practice Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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Denver Broncos assistant offensive line coach Chris Kuper, left, confers with center Patrick Morris as he takes part in drills during an NFL football camp practice Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

ENGLEWOOD Colo. (AP) — The Broncos finally feel secure in their quarterback but they’re still contemplating who will be snapping him the ball.

A trio of candidates is trying to win the center job that was vacated when the Broncos cut ties in the offseason with Connor McGovern, who signed with the New York Jets in free agency after starting every game at center in Denver last year.

Rookie Lloyd Cushenberry III, a third-round pick from Louisiana State, was considered the early favorite to win the job. But two undrafted second-year pros who were teammates at Texas Christian are sharing snaps with Cushenberry.

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Austin Schlottman started the final four games at right tackle in Denver last season after Ronald Leary went on IR, and Patrick Morris played the final two games last year after the Broncos claimed him off waivers from Pittsburgh. Morris logged 47 snaps at center in relief of McGovern.

So, the Broncos have three centers, none of whom have ever started an NFL game at the position.

“All three of them are getting reps in there and it’s way too early to say one guy’s in the lead or not,” coach Vic Fangio said Monday after the Broncos’ first full-pads workout. “But all three have the license to go get that job and we like all three of them, so we feel good about them.”

Quarterback Drew Lock said he’s in no hurry for the Broncos to settle on a starting center, either.

“I think right now it’s nice to be able to try all of ’em out,” Lock said. “I know that sounds weird. But working with Pat, working with Cush, working with Schlott, it’s been good just flipping them in and out every single day and seeing who we’re going to mesh with the best.

“I think if we can get in overall a lot of reps with all the guys, it’ll be up to the coaches when they decide who’s the 1, who’s the 2, who’s the 3,” Lock said. “But we’ll all have reps with every single one of them ... so I think we’ll be ready to head into a game week if it was say four or five days of advance notice.”

Heading into camp it was assumed the biggest O-line battle would come at left tackle, where incumbent Garett Bolles was on notice to curb his holding habit heading into his fourth NFL year. But right tackle Ja’Wuan James opted out of the season over coronavirus concerns and Elijah Wilkinson was moved back to the right side for the second straight season.

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Now, the biggest battle is right in the middle and one man with a unique perspective of the competition at center is nose tackle Mike Purcell.

“Whoever’s the best man is going to get the job. I’m going to play my game and if that helps them make a decision,” so be it, Purcell said, adding, “I see bright spots in all of them.”

“So, it’ll be an interesting battle. It’s just one of those training camp battles that you’ve got to go through,” Purcell added. “I’m sure the team will make the right decision on who’s going to start.”

BUTT COMEBACK

Tight end Jake Butt, whose career has been sidetracked by knee injuries, had some head-turning plays Monday.

“Yeah, I think Jake is way ahead of where he was last year at this time,” Fangio said. “To quote him, he feels the best he’s felt in a long, long time.

“So, I think he’s looked good out there, not just today but all the days he’s been out there. And he had a great offseason and hopefully we’ll see the real Jake Butt here this season.”

Butt is entering his fourth NFL season but has played in just three games, all in 2018, because of three major knee injuries.

Notes: Denver’s first padded practice “was just OK,” Fangio said. “It wasn’t as crisp as I thought it would be.” ... TE Austin Fort (knee surgery) is out 1-2 months, Fangio said. WR Juwaan Winfrey (groin) is day to day.

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