The Broncos drafted Lloyd Cushenberry in the third round this year and, following a brief training camp competition that wasn’t much of a competition at all, handed the 23-year-old center the keys to the offensive line.
So it’s not entirely unexpected Cushenberry evaluated the first quarter of his rookie season as “up-and-down.” But the former LSU star made no excuses for his erratic start to a coronavirus season stacked against rapid rookie acclimation.
“I feel like I have the confidence to succeed,” Cushenberry said. “I know what I have to do mentally, getting guys in the right spot, and the things I’m working on are bettering my technique and just being more physical and playing fast. That’s where I’ve got to get — it’s no excuse that I’m a rookie, and I didn’t have a preseason or whatever.
“I’m expected to do these things, and I’ve got to go out on Monday and show what I can do. I want to prove people wrong who have started doubting me or have started staying some (negative) things.”
The center’s yielded nine disruptions this season (3½ sacks, 5½ knockdowns and no pressures) as well as 1½ bad run plays, per Denver Post game charting, but has not been penalized. He and cornerback Michael Ojemudia headline a heavily-leaned-upon rookie class that’s played 1,288 total snaps through Week 4, second-most in the league behind the Jaguars.
Cushenberry described Monday’s Week 5 matchup against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium as “huge,” noting the Broncos are even more fueled to bring their season back to relevance by the fact that “we felt like we let the first two games slip away from us.”
“Even though we didn’t play to the best of our ability (the first two weeks), we were still in the game and could’ve won it at the end — we felt like we should have,” Cushenberry said. “So we want to start stacking wins and get this thing rolling, because it’s a long season and we can’t get down and start going in the tank right now.”
Cushenberry’s focus has also been on improving in one-on-one matchups and finishing of plays. As for the mental part, including his responsibilities to make pre-snap calls, teammates believe in Cushenberry’s potential.
“He’s getting more comfortable in the offense,” running back Phillip Lindsay said. “It’s hard to be a center, and a rookie center at that, because you have to command a lot of things on the field. But he’s been doing a great job, and we just have to continue to rally around him and help him out… But he’s been holding his own, and he’s only going to get better as time goes on.”
The center said a culture of accountability within the offensive line room is helping to accelerate his growth, as is the opportunity to learn from a Hall of Famer in offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Cushenberry also cited a budding relationship with veteran right tackle Demar Dotson, who stepped into a starting role after Elijah Wilkinson was placed on injured reserve.
“I’ve been trying to pick his brain, because he’s been in the league 11 years, and in order to do that, you’ve got to have a great routine, great mindset, great work ethic,” Cushenberry said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. He’s also from Louisiana, too, so we have a lot of similarities. Hopefully in the future I can be in the same position as him — 35 years old, still playing, teaching rookies.”