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After disappointing first month, Broncos' Hackett focuses on bright side

Russell Wilson set to play Monday, Justin Simmons on track to return from IR
Colts Broncos Football
Posted at 4:21 PM, Oct 11, 2022

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Russell Wilson received a platelet-rich plasma injection Friday to accelerate healing in his sore right throwing shoulder. He practiced Tuesday, throwing normally in drills the media was permitted to witness, suggesting he will start Monday night at the Chargers.

It has a been a messy transition to the Broncos for the future Hall of Famer. He remains on pace for career lows in touchdown passes (14) and completion percentage (59.4 percent) as Denver has nosedived to a 2-3 start.

Some might say, "You are what you tweet." Is that the case for the Wilson? Over the weekend, Wilson quoted Winston Churchill, saying, "If you're going through hell, keep going." What did coach Nathaniel Hackett think of that analogy?

"I didn't see that one. I mean, Russell is a competitor and knows we are not where we want to be. And I know he is doing everything in his power to get this offense where we want it to be. We are 2-3. We are what we are," said Hackett, then responding on whether he's living in Dante's Inferno. "I think it's a beautiful day. There's a lot of improvement to be done."

The Broncos bring to mind a line from "Stripes," when Bill Murray pleads to his exiting girlfriend, "Who has more room to grow than me? I am the acorn that becomes the tree."

The Broncos rank last in red zone touchdown percentage and 30th in third down conversions (30.6 percent). Wilson is 2-for-18 on passes into the end zone. Hackett and his staff performed a deep dive into the film during the mini-bye week. I asked him whether the offense needs to be even more customized to Wilson's strengths since it appears he is uncomfortable — he's staring down receivers and showing a reluctance to run as if he's trying to reinvent himself as a pocket passer.

"Most of the stuff we have done as we collaborated and made this offense is stuff he's comfortable with and we are comfortable with. We are always going to do what's best for our guys and what's best for Russell," Hackett said. "And we will continually develop a plan for him and things he does well."

What has made this soft launch so frustrating is that the Broncos could easily boast a 4-1 record based on how well the defense has played. The Broncos are allowing 16 points per game, fourth best, and have yielded a second-half touchdown once in five contests. If the offense clicks, a turnaround is not impossible. But the Broncos need better. Even with the defense keeping it close, the offense has failed to capitalize, averaging 6 points in second halves.

"I think it's pretty evident that the offense hasn't met the standard it needs to," left guard Dalton Risner said. "Coaches can say they have to do things better, but for us as players, we know we have to be better. The game of football is a roller coaster. We take a lot of pride in this sport and our jobs. We know we have to come together more than ever. When the world is against us, saying we are not doing what we need to do, that's the time where the words like brotherhood and family really (matter)."

Added star free safety Justin Simmons, who is hopeful of returning this week, "As much expectations we put on ourselves and set before the season and been vocal about, those things are all still attainable. We may have put ourselves in a little bit of a hole to start, but I believe in the guys in the room, the guys we've got."

The Broncos designated Simmons, cornerback Michael Ojemudia and tight end Greg Dulcich to return, leaving them three weeks to make a decision on whether to activate them off IR. All practiced on Tuesday. Simmons and Ojemudia are trending in that direction of playing. It's unclear on Dulcich, who might need more practice after missing most of OTAs and training camp with the first hamstring injury of his athletic career. ...

The Broncos waived outside linebacker Jonathan Kongbo and released receivers Darrius Shepherd and Vyncint Smith from the practice squad. They signed long snapper Mitchell Frabonito to the practice squad — they will likely add another snapper for competition — and one-time Bronco receiver Trinity Benson. ...

Hackett on what is ailing the offense. "Negative plays. We've been really good at some explosive passes down the field. I think we're pretty high up there in the league and we have some really good explosive — we really feast or famine, and it's in the red zone, and it's in the middle of the field. The amount of "get back on tracks" we have is just too difficult. We need to be way more efficient on first down, getting positive yards, and even just getting incompletions instead of sacks or penalties. So, I think those are the things that we're focusing on, trying to narrow down the things that we want to be great at and then continually developing those.”