Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry’s progress part of offensive line improvement during second half – The Denver Post
And then there was one.
When left tackle Garett Bolles was a game-day scratch last week at Carolina (illness), it left rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry as the only Broncos offensive player to not miss a snap this year.
Entering Saturday’s game against Buffalo, Cushenberry is 854 for 854.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” he said in a phone interview with The Denver Post. “That’s my goal every year –- play every snap, do well and just be one of those guys. It’s a big deal, but I have to finish the season.”
If Cushenberry plays the final three games like he’s played the last five, he can enter the offseason feeling pride he survived the 16-game gauntlet and showed the kind of progress that will allow him to enter 2021 as the starter.
In the first eight games, The Post’s game charting booked Cushenberry with a team-high 15 pass protection disruptions (4 1/2 sacks, 6 1/2 knockdowns and four pressures) and one clean sheet (Week 1 at Tennessee).
In the last five games, Cushenberry has allowed only three disruptions (one knockdown and two pressures) and had three clean sheets (Weeks 11-12 vs. Miami/New Orleans and last week at Carolina).
The consistency is getting there, and the technical fundamentals are solid (only one penalty this year.)
“The light (is) coming on a little bit because he’s played more and more and more; that’s a good thing,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “You have to be able to know what you’re doing well enough so you can just go and play and there’s no anxiety and there’s no hesitation and you roll.”
Cushenberry’s progress has mirrored that of the offensive line. Since Week 4, the Broncos have allowed only 12 sacks, tied for third-fewest in the NFL.
“Just continuing to work every day and doing our job in keeping (quarterback) Drew (Lock) clean,” he said. “We’re continuing to build off each other.”
Cushenberry was selected 83rd overall (third round), the third center off the board. But Cesar Ruiz (No. 24 to New Orleans) is playing guard and Matt Hennessy (No. 78 to Atlanta) is backing up veteran Alex Mack.
As soon as the Broncos turned the card in for Cushenberry, the expectation was for him to be a plug-and-play starter to replace Connor McGovern, who signed with the New York Jets in free agency. Cushenberry rotated days of training camp practices with Austin Schlottmann as the top center before getting the nod in early September.
As the Broncos used three quarterbacks in the first four games, lost receiver Courtland Sutton (torn ACL) and running back Phillip Lindsay (turf toe injury) and were generally ineffective on offense, Cushenberry found the sledding difficult.
The Tennessee game was followed by messes at Pittsburgh and against Tampa Bay. Cushenberry was booked for 1 1/2 sacks and 3 1/2 quarterback knockdowns against the Steelers and two sacks and a knockdown against the Buccaneers.
“Nothing really stood out as surprising,” he said. “I knew it was going to be physical and I knew it was going to be fast and early on in the season, I had to get used to that. It’s no excuse that we didn’t have an offseason. Everybody was good and it was going to be a battle every week.”
Cushenberry said his first breakthrough was around the Week 4 Jets game (the Broncos’ first win).
“I’m still not where I want to be or need to be, but after those first four games, things started to slow down,” he said. “I started to get a rhythm. Early in the year, I would go out there and not to say I wasn’t being physical enough, but I was thinking a little bit (too much).
“Now I’m just out there playing and I have confidence in myself and the guys next to me and I can play physical and not think too much. That’s the thing (offensive line) Coach (Mike) Munchak preaches — play physical and everything will take care of itself.”
And that’s the balance for a center in general and a rookie center in particular: The position requires a certain bit of mental gymnastics — calling out the front, making the pre-snap protection changes in communication with the quarterback — and if there is overload of information, the physical play suffers.
Just as the Broncos should feel good about their receivers (Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Tim Patrick) moving forward, the same could be true for Cushenberry.
“He’s been very steady and that’s his personality,” Shurmur said. “At some point in the offseason, he’s going to shake his head and say, ‘What the heck was that?’ and be able to assess (the season) and move forward.”