All-rookie center Cushenberry on Broncos drafting another center

Quinn Meinerz followed Cushenberry as third-round draft picks in successive years. They are locked in one of Broncos’ biggest position battles.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos’ most surprising draft pick six weeks ago wasn’t Pat Surtain II in the first round, although the cornerback may have been a close second.

The most surprising draft selection by first-year general manager George Paton came in the third round when he took small-college center Quinn Meinerz.

It was a surprise because the Broncos had just taken a center in the third round of the previous 2020 draft. Lloyd Cushenberry III, center for Joe Burrow and the undefeated national champion LSU Tigers, was not exactly a rookie bust. Not only did he start all 16 games, he delivered all 1,100 of the Broncos’ offensive snaps. Cushenberry and Tampa Bay offensive tackle Tristin Wirfs were the only two rookies to play every snap last year. Both made the Pro Football Writers Association’s All-Rookie team.

Then again what goes on inside the scrums along the NFL trenches apparently stays there. Except in the film room broken down by offensive line coaches.

So when the Broncos doubled down at the center position by taking Meinerz in the third round this year after taking Cushenberry in the third round last year?

“Expected, just based on how I played last year,’’ Cushenberry said humbly during a Zoom press conference Tuesday with the Denver media. “I didn’t think much of it, competition is good for everyone. We’re going to push each other, we’re pushing each other already in OTAs.

“He’s a great guy off the field. He’s a great player. We’re going to make each other better and whoever steps up is going to get the job.”

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As the incumbent with, well, 1,100 snaps of NFL experience, Cushenberry remains the favorite to make the first season-opening snap to either Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Lock, speaking of competition, at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium on September 12. But Meinerz, who became an instant cult hero out of Wisconsin-Whitewater thanks to his friendly personality and “The Belly” nickname, will get a legitimate chance to give the Broncos a second starting rookie center in two years.

“We’re making each other better,’’ Cushenberry said. “He’s a young guy, he’s going to have his ups and downs. Going through what I went through last year and having the experience I have now, I can teach him some things and show him the ropes a little bit like guys did for me last year.”

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