When Nathaniel Hackett took the reins as Denver Broncos head coach, he had a big decision to make with his assistant staff. Hold onto offensive line coach Mike Munchak — widely revered as one of the top one or two coaches at his position in the NFL — or turn the page to some new blood?
Hackett opted for door No. 2, as Munchak was jettisoned in favor of Butch Barry. Most recently serving as San Francisco’s assistant O-line coach, Barry replaced Munchak for one primary reason: his specialty in the wide zone-blocking scheme.
That’s the rushing philosophy that Hackett’s offensive scheme is built on top of and Barry’s initial brief as Denver’s O-line coach is to get all the carryover linemen up to speed on the new approach. The zone-blocking scheme prioritizes the football IQ in linemen, along with the athleticism to get off the ball quickly and move laterally, instead of the gap system Munchak employed that vaults raw man-on-man power.
It’s fair to wonder which Broncos’ O-linemen fit into the new scheme. One of the young players currently in question is that of 2021 third-rounder Quinn Meinerz. Following an OTA practice last week, Meinerz shared his initial impressions of Barry.
“Every coach has their own way they approach how to coach,” Meinerz said. “Coach Barry is an intense coach. Everyone is intense. That’s what you love about being coached by someone like that. He’s really focused on getting us to run off the ball. Like I was saying, that was part of the reason [with] losing all the weight and stuff. So far, it’s been great to be coached by Coach Barry and I’m excited to keep progressing throughout the year with him.”
Meinerz has lost 10 pounds to help him be lighter on his feet and more apt for the zone-blocking system. He’s coming off a mostly impressive rookie campaign wherein he appeared in 15 games, starting nine of them.
Meinerz projects best as the right guard on Denver’s new-look offensive line. But he admits right now that nothing is set in stone when it comes to perfectly projecting his position in 2022.
“Right now, it’s really early to know what the expectations are just because these first couple phases of OTAs have been really learning everybody and each other,” Meinerz said. “There’s really a lot still to happen between who’s being named what at that point . Right now, my main focus is trying to be the best player every single day and take the coaching I’m receiving and apply it.”
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Prior to the start of OTAs, Hackett seemed to entrench Meinerz as the Broncos’ starting right guard while talking with the press at the NFL Owners Meetings at the beginning of April.
“The sky is the limit for him right now,” Hackett said Monday from Palm Beach, Fla. “He’s a guy who didn’t play the whole season. He kind of jumped in there towards the end. I really like what he does. I still remember when he was coming out—he had the videos in the forest working out. I know he’s working out hard right now. He’s going to be a really good right guard for us.”
How Meinerz takes to Barry’s tutelage will be key. Barry has been an O-line coach for 13 years and spent the 2020 season in Green Bay with Hackett.
Last year, the Niners’ offensive line helped lead the way to the team ranking in the top-10 in several offensive categories, including passing yards per play (1st), red-zone touchdown percentage (1st), total yards per game (7th ), and rushing yards per contest (7th). San Francisco’s O-line sprung the ball-carriers for a combined 2,166 rushing yards and 22 rushing scores, which led all the way to the NFC Championship Game.
Alas for Barry, the Niners fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. But if he can duplicate the success he had as an assistant as the main coach in Denver, the Broncos’ rushing attack will come alive and there is no better friend to a quarterback, even one as prolific and dynamic as Russell Wilson.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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