ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos have a new coach, offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and, you may have heard, a new quarterback, so installing a new offense is far more than a let’s-just-tweak-it affair.
The Broncos will open their offseason program Monday and while they won’t get down to the real business of 11-on-11 on-field work for a month or so, the creation, and distribution, of the playbook is at the top of the to-do list. And coach Nathaniel Hackett has made it clear, no matter what the Broncos call, quarterback Russell Wilson is going to be a big part of the decision.
“It’s so important to make sure he’s comfortable in everything that he does,” Hackett said at the recent league meetings. “From the cadence to the way that you just call a play is so important because when you go out there and all 80,000 people are screaming at you, you want it to be natural. … We do so much of the same stuff [as Wilson did with the Seattle Seahawks]. It’s just about getting that language to be able to cross over.”
Wilson spent 10 seasons with the Seahawks before his trade to the Broncos in March. An unshakable familiarity with how the team played on the field to how things were done inside the team’s complex was just a part of his day.
He knew his teammates, the team’s staff, everything from the cleats on his feet to the food in the cafeteria. It’s all new now and it’s also all been part of the conversations Wilson has had with Peyton Manning about Manning’s arrival in Denver in 2012.
“Peyton is one of the best minds in the game and one of the best throwers in the game,” Wilson said earlier this offseason. “From going through that experience of being in Indy, a place that he was at for almost 16-plus years, or whatever it was, to come here. … I’ve always known that what I believe about great players, the best in the world and everything else, is that you’ve got to be really, really great at being consistent. But also, you’ve got to be really, really great at adjusting. This is a time to adjust.”
When Manning signed with the Broncos in March 2012, he was healing after missed the previous season due to his fourth neck surgery. While he was quick to cocoon himself inside the Broncos’ complex during those early weeks — going through hours of game video as well as an arduous regimen with the strength and conditioning staff to recover from his surgery — he still had some limitations on the field until the offseason program got underway.
Wilson has had no such physical constraints and has already had extended throwing sessions in California with several teammates. Wilson can work through general concepts that figure to be in the offense, improve timing with the receivers and build a rapport with teammates even if all involved don’t have the terminology Hackett may use for specific plays.
For his part, Hackett has said he will use some of what he saw Matt LaFleur do as the first-year coach with the Green Bay Packers, installing an offense for a proven Pro Bowl quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. Hackett spent three seasons as LaFleur’s offensive coordinator before he was hired by the Broncos.
“I would say a lot of the stuff that Matt and I did when we first got there, has been a lot like that,” Hackett said. “It’s kind of that whole process of evaluation of what I want to do as a coach compared to what the quarterback wants. It’s the same thing we did with Aaron. There were a lot of great meetings that we had between the three of us on what’s the right thing to do, what’s better for us, and what’s better for him. I think going through that process with a veteran quarterback and Matt and watching that whole thing happen was awesome.”
Per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, NFL teams cannot do any 11-on-11, 7-on-7 or 9-on-7 offense vs. defense work until “Phase 3” of the offseason schedule. That will begin May 24 for the Broncos.
In “Phase 2,” which starts after the two weeks of conditioning-only work that begins Monday, the Broncos could have offensive players line up in drills against other offensive players so they could at least simulate defenders on plays. But those practices, by rule, have to be conducted at “walk-through pace.”
It all matters for Wilson, who sits on Square One with a team for the first time since he was the Seahawks’ third-round pick (75th overall) in the 2012 draft.
“The wild obsession of working and doing it right every single day and not letting up ever, I think that’s really critical,” Wilson said. “I think the big part of this game and to be able to learn this game as players is the ability to teach, the ability to explain, the ability to verbalize what you want and to paint a picture for it. It’s the same thing for a quarterback. You have to paint a picture every play. I want to paint a picture of every play. Every time I step into the huddle, I’m not just giving them a play, it’s the play, the only play, the only one right now.”