The Broncos kicked off four straight weeks of on-field work Monday as they began "Phase 3" of the off-season training program. Following three straight weeks of three days of voluntary on-field work, they will hold their mandatory mini-camp June 13-15. Attendance was near perfect, but absent were linebacker Bradley Chubb, safety Kareem Jackson and running back Melvin Gordon. Safety Justin Simmons said Jackson was attending his daughter's graduation, and head coach Nathaniel Hackett stressed that it is certainly the player's choice to attend these workouts. "This is all voluntary," Hackett said. "It’s one of those things and the great thing is that a lot of those guys communicated and talk with me. That’s all I can ask. Whoever is out here, we’re going to coach them and have some fun. Those guys reached out to me, and it is voluntary."
With a new coaching staff on both sides of the ball, there is certainly value in getting reps with teammates, and working in the new system. But, veteran players are certainly viewed differently, especially, this time of year. Simmons was measured when talking about his teammates who weren't present. "As a leader, I’m really big on protecting your space and doing what’s right for you," Simmons said. "I’ll never question that. This is voluntary, I’m not going to question other things that are going on. For the guys that are here and that are putting in the work and are around, I think that it is important. Am I going to say that next year if it’s the same system and things like that? Maybe not. You probably have a better grasp of the system. But a new defensive system, new offensive system, new teammates, and a new culture. I think that it’s important to be around and to be present."
Quarterback Russell Wilson has likely never missed a voluntary workout in his life, at least without a very valid reason. The football junkie talked about the work they're able to get in and the value gained at this stage of the off-season. "Everybody is doing such an amazing job of studying, and everybody is on their stuff. Everybody is committed. There are guys that come in super early to work with me in the mornings. We all kind of do our thing as players and spend a lot of time. I think it has to be a played-owned thing, and that’s what we’re doing. The defense looks tremendous, too. We’re going to have a really good football team, and that’s exciting. We’re really excited about the opportunity to play football."
Of course, getting on the same page with his QB is at the top of Hackett's to do list, but he is comfortable, despite the demands on his time in his new role, that he gets ample time with his signal caller. "Yeah, I have to be very good with my time," Hackett said. "I think that’s very important, but I’m so lucky to have [Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach] Klint Kubiak and [Offensive Coordinator] Coach [Justin] Outten. Both of those guys have just been awesome. I think that it starts with us as coaches being on the same page so there’s only one voice, and then going into that room together, making sure we’re all talking, we’re all communicating and saying the same thing. So really, it’s the four of us. And you include [QB] Josh [Johnson] and ‘Ryp’ (QB Brett Rypien). We all have to be on the same page because you never know what’s going to happen. We just have to make sure that communication goes well, [regardless] if I’m not there or if I am there. We watched the tape together; we do a lot of communicating. That’s why we’re here a lot."
Hackett's father Paul, who coached in the NFL for decades, and was the head coach at USC and Pitt, was in attendance Monday as well. The Broncos head coach said his father is certainly still his biggest football consultant, "Yes, he is (laughs). I would say yes. He’s got some of those old school ways. It’s a little different with the way the game has changed, and also, it’s a different system. He keeps getting mad at me for calling certain things how we do. But definitely. He’s the art of the footwork. He was there when it was created, so it’s something I always talked to him about."
Monday was also the first time Wilson spoke to the media since the Broncos schedule was released. Naturally, he was asked what it will be like returning to the place he called home for the last decade. In typical Wilson fashion, he downplayed the game, and mentioned that he would treat it like any other game. When pressed on how difficult that would be he shared this, "I’ve always kind of played neutral," he said. "I think there is a difference. I’ve always played in a neutral mindset. For me, I’m a positive person by nature. I believe in non-negativity. Negativity works 100 percent of the time. What I really believe in is the ability to be neutral in the midst of the storm, the midst of chaos, the midst of opportunity, the midst of good things, good times, and challenging times in order to be able to play this game even keeled and be neutral in the midst of it all. I think the biggest thing is trying to do what you always do. I’ve done it for a long time, and I’ve played a lot of football. For me, it’s focusing on the fundamentals, focusing in the midst of the game, focusing on the joy, focusing on that person that’s in the stands—that young boy or young girl that’s in the 300 seats up top in the top left corner. [I just want to] throw the ball, make plays and score touchdowns."
A couple of weeks ago, Wilson shared a photo on social media of he and Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning watching practice film in Wilson's office at the UC Health Training Center. They've known each other for a long time, and despite Wilson beating Manning and the Broncos in Super Bowl 48, the two kindred football spirits are really enjoying strengthening their relationship. "We’ve been talking a lot," Wilson said. "I’ve gotten to know Peyton over the years. He was my quarterbacks coach way back in the day when I was in 10th or 11th grade. Sometimes we spent a lot of time together back then in Louisiana at his passing academy. Over the years, we’ve connected and talked quite a bit. Obviously, we played against each other and everything else. Since I’ve gotten here, he’s kind of taken me under his wing in a beautiful way. [Peyton’s wife] Ashley [Manning] has taken ‘Ci’ (Ciara) under her wing in helping with thoughts, schools, this, that and where to eat. The thing that Peyton and I both love is football. We can spend all day watching football together. That’s what we were able to do and spend a little time together. We’ll do more as we go. It’s fun to be able to be around arguably the world’s greatest who has ever played the game at that position. To be able to learn and ask questions and vice versa and talk football—he’s asking me questions and vice versa. That’s the fun part. You have [Pro Football Hall of Fame QB] John Elway here, too. You have two of the greatest guys to play the game right in your midst."