When George Paton ticked through his list of people to compliment during the opening presser for Training Camp - Denver’s new coaching staff, free agent additions, core veterans, team leaders, rookies, etc. - the mention of his new quarterback was almost presented as an afterthought, an asterisk to the main point.
“Obviously, we had the trade,” Paton said in what will compete for understatement of the year before noting its true significance.
“We had a big trade, and it was game-changing,” he added. “It was game-changing for our locker room, the day-to-day, and for our football team. Everything he brings here, we know what type of player he is.”
But Russell Wilson is anything but an asterisk.
And Paton knows it.
“He didn’t come here to lose. He came here to win and believed in our team, and we believed in our team,” Paton said, adding that the front office believes in it even more now with Wilson leading the charge and a bunch additions to a solid foundation.
“Now it’s coming together,” the second-year GM added.
Prior to the offseason, there were whispers that this season would be the true test for Paton as a second-year GM. He has picked his coach, added his players to the team, and most importantly, appointed his quarterback.
Handing that baton to Wilson was a killer move and Paton is proving over and over he also didn’t come here to lose. That’s why he shrewdly landed a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
“Any time you get a franchise quarterback, a Super Bowl winning quarterback, like Russell Wilson, it’s going to accelerate anything that you’re doing,” Paton said, emphasizing the strong foundation they had been building in order to get Wilson. ...players like Justin Simmons, Javonte Williams and Patrick Surtain. If we didn’t have those types of players here, it would have done us no good to go get a quarterback like Russell Wilson.”
And now the pressure is on - on Paton, on Nathaniel Hackett, on Wilson, on the Broncos.
“We don’t worry about what’s going on outside. We know what’s going on within these walls and we are fired up within these walls,” Paton said. “Our guys are excited. It does us no good to talk about it. We have our expectations within our walls, and we’re fired up to go get it.”
Russell Wilson’s able to hand it off AND complete a pass on the same play. pic.twitter.com/Y2Z0QKDpvI— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensDNVR) July 27, 2022
For Hackett that expectation has been starting in the meeting room and is now moving to the field.
“You want guys to come into those meeting rooms and be excited,” he said. “The goal is to get them in there and [have them] want to learn ball and get better. [There are] things that we do to spice it up and make it interesting, fun, and competitive while at the same time being detailed and getting all of the right stuff in the system put in.”
The coach promised a lot of different stuff on the field but it will still all come down to what works for the guys in the pads.
“It’s all about this team. It’s about what Russell does well. It’s about what Tim Patrick does well. It’s about what Courtland [Sutton], what Albert [Okwuegbunam], the offensive line—what they do well,” Hackett added. “We’re trying to make sure we have a big enough playbook that we can simplify it down when it gets to the season to do what’s best for them.”
Hackett is also trying to keep the team focused on the process and not just on beating the Chiefs...or whichever rival team fans and the media are focused on.
“Everybody keeps talking about the Chiefs, and yes, they’re part of the division. If you win the division, that’s the fastest way to the playoffs. That’s why we always talk about that,” he said, noting that of course the goal is to get to the playoffs.
But the Broncos aren’t playing the Chiefs in July and August.
“It’s about what we can control and getting ready to play this season. Heck, I think the first time we play them is late in the season. So many things can happen by then—you never know,” Hackett said. “I think it’s just ‘Hey, did we get better in the offseason?’ We sure did. ‘Did the guys enjoy it and push each other?’ They did. That’s all I can ask for right now.”
The first-time head coach was asked if this Broncos team has the “championship” mentality like the Colorado Avalanche, and he shared a quote: “When coaches hold players accountable, it’s a good team. When players hold players accountable, it’s a great team.”
He likes that mantra and is embracing that for this Broncos team.
“As a coach, you can’t go out there. Those guys have to be able to work things out themselves. You’re trying to train them as best you can, but they’re the ones who have to work it out,” he said. “When you see that happen, that’s when special things start coming to fruition. I think that’s what you saw with the Avalanche, and that’s what we’re trying to create here.”
It’s certainly been embraced by Justin Simmons, who is among the longest-tenured Broncos never to have known a winning season/team here.
“[It feels] way different,” Simmons admitted about this season. “Obviously from a team perspective and from a quarterback position adding ‘Russ’ (QB Russell Wilson)—that’s huge, but we have added so many players around the board that I feel are going to help us in every aspect in the game. ...I am really excited. It feels like it’s all new.”
Simmons admitted that he knows he’s said that before, but the energy is different this time.
“I know I have gotten up here every year and talked about how excited I am for the season and how I really feel confident and comfortable with the group that we have going in, but this year is just a little different than years prior,” he added. “I’m really excited for the year.”
Courtland Sutton pointed to the accountability that has already taken place thanks to Wilson and his example as soon as he signed with Denver.
So the chemistry is already in a good place.
“We were able to do it before OTAs, and stealing those reps is huge,” Sutton said. “We had the small meetings of talking about the small things and everybody being on the same page ... [not just] if the tight ends know what the tight ends need to do, the receivers know what the receivers need to do. We’re going to all know the offense so we can all line up out there and play as fast as we can and play as confident as we can.”
Wilson invited all of them to San Diego for a retreat/camp in the spring, and Sutton believes it has already made a huge difference.
“Like I said, stealing the reps. We were able to work on red-zone stuff, and we were able to work on tempo things,” he said, noting it wasn’t coach-led so there’s a built-in accountability there. “It was just us as an offense out there, communicating with each other and saying, ‘This is what I see.’ Asking Russ, ‘how do you like this route versus this defense? If we get pressed, how do you want us to run this route? If they’re off, how do you want us to run this route?’ ...like I said, just stealing those reps.”