ENGLEWOOD | Lloyd Cushenbery III is the first rookie to win the Denver Broncos’ starting job at center since J.D. Walton a decade ago and the second of this year’s class to get the stating nod.
“My main focus is going out there and being physical, really just showing that I have the mental capacity to make all the calls and have the confidence that I can do this thing at a high level,” Cushenberry said Tuesday as the Broncos installed their game plan for their Monday night opener against the Tennessee Titans.
Cushenberry, a third-round draft choice from LSU, beat out Pat Morris and Austin Schlottmann to earn the starting job.
“He just kept improving,” coach Vic Fangio said. “It was a close battle all through camp. We just think that he’s ready for it and he’ll keep improving and learn by playing. A little bit of this is crystal ball that we think he’ll keep improving and develop into a good center.”
Cushenberry said his emergence as one of two rookie starters — the other was first-round pick Jerry Jeudy — was equal parts mental and physical.
“Obviously playing the center position there are a lot of things you have to know mentally. Playing in the NFL inside, you have to be very physical,” Cushenberry said. “It’s a little bit of both, but both things I feel like I’ve made big strides in each day. I just got better every day.”
Rookies had a tougher time impressing coaches during the coronavirus-interrupted offseason filled with remote learning challenges and no preseason games.
Cushenberry had to develop a rapport with quarterback Drew Lock in a very nontraditional way.
“It really just all started in the Zoom meetings,” Cushenberry said. “We would have offensive meetings. We didn’t really spend time one-on-one with each other. We just, with the whole offense in the meeting together, installing together, I just got a chance to learn everything, learn what the quarterback should see if he wants to flip the protection and some things that I should be looking at.”
Without preseason games to knock off the rust or rid himself of the jitters, Cushenberry is leaning on his college experience where the Tigers started off with regular season games right away.
“I think it compares to college. As far as the preseason and how everything shook out with the pandemic, there’s really no excuse. Everyone’s in the same situation. Even when everything first took place back in April or May, my whole mindset was once we get back to football there’s no excuse whether we didn’t have preseason or this and that,” Cushenberry said.
“When you get on the field you have a job to do. Every rookie, every player is in the same situation. I feel like it’s my job to be responsible, put in the work, not just inside the building but when I get home, so when I get on the field I can be as prepared as I can be and play at a high level.”
Cushenberry will have guards Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow to help him out, but he doesn’t want to bother them.
“At center, just me being the person I am, I don’t really want to depend on anyone to help me out too much. I feel like it’s my job, my responsibility to know all my calls, to know what exactly I have to do,” Cushenberry said. “Obviously, all of us are going to help each other out on the field. They’re going to help me out a lot because they’ve played and they’re experienced. As far as mentally and making calls, I feel like that’s on me as a center to know what I have to do at all times.”
Cushenberry is in no mood to celebrate winning a starting job.
“This is only the beginning,” he said. “Now I’m ready to go out there and prove that I belong.”
Notes: The Broncos will allow 5,700 fans into their second game, against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Week 3. They’ll have no fans for the opener. … The only player who didn’t participate in the indoor practice (snow, sleet) on Tuesday was ILB Mark Barron, who pulled a hamstring at the Friday night stadium practice. … LB Bradley Chubb (knee), Glasgow (ankle), TE Albert Okwuegbunam (hip), WR KJ Hamler (hamstring), TE Andrew Beck (back) were all in uniform and took part in the individual periods.