After a trial-by-fire rookie campaign in which Quinn Meinerz was thrust into a starting role at midseason, the Broncos believed Meinerz was ready to take the next step in 2022.
That plan went sideways on Denver’s first possession this year, when the Broncos’ starting right guard strained his hamstring on a field goal attempt in Seattle.
The good news for Meinerz: The injury wasn’t severe enough to warrant a trip to injured reserve. And three weeks later, he is ready for a retake on the start of his sophomore season in the NFL.
“I worked extremely hard for this opportunity, and to have it just be a weird little fizzle out because of a freak injury was annoying, it was frustrating,” Meinerz said. “I need to get that full game in, and it’s time to prove (the talent) I have. It’s time to do my thing. I feel very confident that I’ll be out there on Sunday.”
For Meinerz, the hamstring injury was a setback after starting the final eight games of 2021 in place of Graham Glasgow, who suffered a season-ending ankle fracture. This season, it’s Glasgow who spelled Meinerz over the past two-plus games.
Center Lloyd Cushenberry gave props to Glasgow, while also noting the return of Meinerz’s motor should give the Denver run game an edge. It will also revive Meinerz’s friendly game-day competition with Cushenberry and left guard Dalton Risner to see which interior lineman can rack up the most downfield blocks — a staple of Meinerz’s game.
Heading into Week 4, the Broncos rank 12th in net rushing yards at 117.7 per game. Javonte Williams has 176 rushing yards, and Melvin Gordon has 131.
“He brings that physicality in the run game, and he’s part of the competition between the three inside guys: Who can get down the field faster? And who’s helping out Javonte if he has a long run?” Cushenberry said. “All of us try to get there as soon as we can to block more or push the pile. When we see Quinn do it, we try to top him the next play, and he sets the tone in that way.”
While the Broncos will hopefully get Meinerz back in Las Vegas — No. 77 was active last week but did not play, and limited in Thursday’s practice — Risner said the ankle injury he suffered against San Francisco won’t be a problem for his status on Sunday. He was also limited in Thursday’s practice.
“I just got rolled up on pretty good, so I took (Wednesday) to get treatment instead of going through the walk through, just to make sure I’m ready for the game,” Risner said. “It’s 100% that I’ll be playing.”
Risner sees Sunday as the first chance in a string of opportunities for Meinerz, Denver’s third-round pick out of Division-III Wisconsin Whitewater in 2021, to assert himself as an every-down NFL player.
“He can prove that he’s a consistent guard in the NFL,” Risner said. “He’s got great physicality and he’s a high-effort guy with a high motor, and he has a lot to prove. Last year he started the back half of the season, and (off that), we all know Quinn’s capabilities. He’s just got to go out there and play consistent, and prove he can do it for a whole season, and I know he’s going to do exactly that.”
Outside of Meinerz, the other question mark on the right side is the status of right tackle Billy Turner. The veteran free-agent addition remains a murky proposition at best for Sunday after not practicing Thursday.
It appeared Turner might make his season debut in Week 2 or 3 in his return from an offseason knee scope, but neither of those dates materialized.
Turner has trended in the wrong direction in the past couple of weeks, going from being a full practice participant, to limited, to now working on the side field. That means Cam Fleming is likely to get another start at right tackle, opposite of Garett Bolles at left tackle. Both tackles will be tested against the Raiders’ Pro Bowl edge rushing tandem of Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones.
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