ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Ronald Leary was growing up to be a basketball star, or at least he thought. Up until his junior season of high school he wanted to follow in Michael Jordan’s footsteps.
That was until he was handed shoulder pads and told that he was going to be an offensive lineman on the gridiron.
Now, a decade later, he’s continuing to see that decision pay off as he signed a 4-year, $35 million contract with the Denver Broncos on the first day of free agency. After establishing himself as a talented offensive guard in his first five seasons in the league with the Dallas Cowboys, general manager John Elway made him the Broncos’ first priority in free agency.
However, it wasn’t his play on the field that made him such a hot commodity for the Broncos; it was his attitude.
“He’s the type of player we are looking for with the mentality on the offensive line,” Elway said. “He’s physical and tough and plays with a demeanor that makes us tough on the offensive line. That was one of our goals, and we got that in Ronald. He’s very talented, but also plays with that mentality that we are looking for.”
Although Leary played left guard his entire career in the league, he’s willing to switch to the right side if needed. It is widely believed that starting left guard Max Garcia will be the other starting guard alongside Leary in 2017.
“I’m open to playing left or right. I was just sitting with the starting center (Matt Paradis), and the starting left guard (Max Garcia) from last year,” Leary said at his welcoming press conference on Friday. “We had a great conversation just now. Me and Garcia we weren’t talking about playing left or right. We were just talking about playing ball. Lining up next to each other being really physical up front—that’s what we are looking forward to do.”
Less than 24-hours after signing with the Broncos, Leary was already stressing the importance of physicality to his new offensive lineman. According to Leary, if the offensive line can be physical they will be significantly better than last season.
“We’ll gel real well together and just be physical up front. They preach it,” Leary said. “It’s one of the things we talked about, being physical. That’s going to be a big thing for us as a group, being physical.”
In his 13 games last season with the Cowboys, Leary didn’t allow a single sack all season. However, just like all offensive lineman, Leary would prefer to pound the ball on the ground because it’s all about attitude.
“I definitely take more enjoyment blocking for the run. Run blocking is all about the attitude,” he said. “It’s big on big, who’s going to come out hard and who’s going to hit them first in the mouth. I’m moving forward; he’s moving forward. I love that part of the game.”
Last season Leary’s Cowboys ran for 149.8 yards per game—ranking second-best in the league. The Broncos, on the other hand, only ran for 92.8 yards per game—ranking sixth-worst. Leary believes that the attitude on a successful offensive line is infections.
“Once everybody has it made up in their mind that we are going to be bullies on the field, then that makes it a lot easier on everybody,” he said. “If everybody thinks like that and has that mentality then we all feed off of each other. Once you see one guy doing it, then you say, ‘okay that looks fun.’ Then the next guy does it, and it just trickles down, and that’s how you become a dominant offensive line.”
Elway hopes that Leary, and newly acquired offensive tackle Menelik Jackson, will give an immediate boost to the offensive line. The key to that may lie in how quickly his bully attitude spreads to his fellow lineman.