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Hackett-to-Payton transition continues to expose just how out-of-depth former staff had been

Fans of the Denver Broncos know the Nathaniel Hackett era was an unmitigated disaster, but since Sean Payton has been hired, the prior failures continue to be a source of conversation as is the competence of the new regime

NFL: Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No one needs to be reminded that the 2022 Denver Broncos were the football equivalent of watching two drunk movers try to fit a couch through a doorway.

Yet, following a free agency run that saw the Broncos reshape the offensive line and add additional quality pieces as well, maybe it should be reiterated just how lucky this franchise and fanbase is to have rid themselves of failure and injected a sense of optimism and pride (this time in which those feelings can be judged by prior head coaching experience rather than just hope).

It was at the recent NFL’s Annual Meeting where Broncos Country was once again reminded just how bad the previous staff was, but how competent the new staff appears. Hearing what went down last season once more makes it almost worth celebrating Sean Payton’s arrival even more now.

Payton of course made his rounds with the national media during the meetings, and following some of his comments regarding last year’s team, one can’t help but think prior to his firing, George Paton and Greg Penner gave Nathaniel Hackett a vintage Office Space “What would you say...ya *do* here?” speech.

It’s clear Payton is going to change things for the better, but the fact some of what happened actually transpired under the guidance of a supposed professional football staff is just...baffling.

One of Hackett’s egregious errors took early in his tenure when he decided not to play starters during the preseason, robbing the team of establishing any kind of game-like chemistry prior to the week one matchup vs the Seattle Seahawks. The Broncos never could get off the ground following a dragging performance in a loss, and along with a slew of injuries, were essentially dead on arrival.

This isn’t to say playing the starters would’ve made this team a playoff level team, but it would have exposed weaknesses early on that could’ve been tweaked by week one. Given the staff’s performance throughout the year, though, no one should be blamed if no tweaks would have been made.

Payton, though, is going with the Herm Edwards “you play to win the game” mantra and said as much during the event.

“In the preseason? We’re going to play all of them,” Payton said. “Absolutely we are. Absolutely we are. That’s the preseason.”

He also took issue with how practices were conducted last season, particularly the lack of head-to-head drills and guys in full gear.

“There wasn’t any 9-on-7, one-on-ones [last season],” Payton said. “The approach was much different than I’m used to.”

As for suiting up in full gear, he had thoughts on that, too.

Not to take his words TOO out of context, but it sounds like this roughly translates to meaning last year’s camps were severely lacking in intensity and physicality. Again, thank you, Nathaniel Hackett.

Perhaps it was that lack of physicality, along with a less-than-stellar training staff, that led to the Broncos becoming one of the most injury-ridden teams in recent history. 21 players hit injuries reserves while nine additional players who were expected to start or rotate missed multiple games.

It got to the point that every time a player was seen sneezing on camera fans had to hold their breaths and wonder if his ACL was still intact.

Payton is not intent to let that past repeat itself and is going so far as to focus the first part of the offseason on nothing but conditioning and weight training to better prepare their bodies for what’s to come.

The NFL Network’s James Palmer touched on this in more detail Friday afternoon.

“Sean Payton wants them to spend more than just the three weeks that are phase one with conditioning and weight room work,” Palmer reported. “He wants to get these guys in better physical shape than he believes the previous regime had them participating in the offseason and during training camp.”

One can only imagine Payton accepting the job, getting settled in, and then looking at what the prior offseason and camp schedules looked like and wondering if someone was pranking him.

None of this is to suggest that Payton is going to immediately elevate the team to 2012-2015 levels, but for a fan base who was so gut punched by the prior regime that some were willing to accept Dan Quinn just to get Hackett out, having Payton in charge of things feels like winning the lottery.

The team is fortunate to have him, appears to be in good shape, and all should be thankful that he truly did accept the job and not just pull a Ray Patterson.

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