Connor McGovern did not take a snap during a game at center through four years at Missouri. And none with the Broncos since being drafted in 2016 until Sunday, when he moved from right guard to step in for the injured Matt Paradis.
Paradis, who sustained a fractured fibula late in the second quarter against Houston, had started the previous 57 games. The next man up at center is McGovern, which will give the Broncos their fifth different starting offensive line combination in 10 games. For the 6-foot-4, 306-pound mauler with long black hair and bushy beard to match, it’s a big responsibility but one he’s confident he can handle.
“Snapping the ball isn’t something that’s hard for me,” he said. “That’s second nature.”
McGovern played scout-team center during one redshirt season at Missouri prior to making 40 college starts at either guard or tackle. The Broncos featured McGovern at both guard slots in his 13 starts the past two seasons, but he did play center during the off-season when Paradis was recovering from surgery on both hips.
Then again, even he admits, the “offseason and live bullets are two different things.”
Especially when replacing a team captain whose impact went far beyond his ability to block.
“Matt is like a coach on the field, so you can’t replace that,” coach Vance Joseph said. “He is brilliant in protections. You won’t replace Matt’s football IQ or his play, but we have to adjust to do what’s best for the players that are going to play in his place. … My comfort (with McGovern) physically at least is fine. It’s just the mental part of being a center in this league that’s different. It’s like being a quarterback. That part he has to obviously study and get ready to conquer.”
The good news? Paradis has mentored McGovern dating back to 2016 when Denver selected McGovern with a fifth-round draft pick. The linemates have become good friends.
“I’m always in the film room watching with him,” McGovern said. “It’s a lot easier to figure schemes out if you have someone to bounce ideas off of. .. I just learn, and all that kind of stuff preparing has been a huge help. I’ll keep going forward with it.”
The patchwork makeup of the line doesn’t end with McGovern. His absence at right guard opens the door for Eli Wilkinson or Billy Turner inside. Wilkinson took 40 snaps against the Texans and allowed one quarterback hit, one sack and had one poor run-block. Starting right tackle Jared Veldheer played his first game in weeks Sunday after returning from a knee injury. He played all 66 offensive snaps and had two penalties and two allowed quarterback pressures.
Veldheer called McGovern a “bright guy” who “has to go in there and run the show.”
“You’re the one that gets everything started,” McGovern said of his new role. “You’re the one that gets everyone going to the right spots, and ultimately, the play starts with you.”
The Broncos travel to face the Chargers on Nov. 18. That’s a stiff test for a first-time starting NFL center.
“I know I’m not Matt Paradis,” McGovern said, “but I’m going to do my best to fill the gap.”
When the Broncos return from their bye to face the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 11 (Nov. 18), they will start their fifth different offensive line combination in 10 games. A look:
1-4 Bolles/Leary/Paradis/McGovern/ Veldheer
5 Bolles/Leary/Paradis/McGovern/ Turner
Veldheer was injured (knee) in Week 4 and missed four consecutive games.
6 Bolles/Leary/Paradis/Garcia/ Turner
Garcia rotated with McGovern until Leary’s season-ending Achilles injury.
7-9 Bolles/Garcia/Paradis/ McGovern/Turner
Garcia moved to LG and McGovern reclaimed his RG spot.
*11 Bolles/Garcia/McGovern/ Wilkinson/Veldheer
Paradis (leg) is out for the season. Eli Wilkinson is the addition.
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