ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Sean Payton arrived in Denver with eyes wide open. This wasn't the 2006 New Orleans Saints, who were flattened by football and thrown into chaos by a hurricane. But he inherited a team that spiraled close to the abyss.
The 2022 Broncos’ season moved officially into the rearview — the missed field goals, mind-numbing quarterback regression, shoving and yelling matches on the sidelines and endless penalties — as the 2023 team went through a 90-minute workout on a sun-splashed Wednesday at Centura Training Center.
Training camps sprout superficial optimism, but the change in Denver goes beyond aesthetics. Payton sees roots growing.
"I thought the offseason went well. It was quiet. Guys were working. These guys want to improve and want to be seen in a different way. You get that taste of last year, that's over with. It's a tough division, a tough league," Payton said. "Part of the procurement of players is finding those guys who it matters a lot to. That becomes a little contagious, then you have something."
Payton has been on target with his message. It is impossible to miss from the Compete Street sign posted outside the entrance to the locker room to his relentless explaining of plays, drills and concepts. CEO Greg Penner admitted the "constant teaching wasn't something I expected." The players recognize it as routine, saying they believe in Payton.
"One thousand percent. I hate to be up here and be reiterating something we’ve been talking about the past couple of years, with us not taking care of business the past season. All we can control is moving forward now," receiver Courtland Sutton said.
"I think the guys that have been a part of past seasons understand the sense of urgency that we have to have moving forward and passing that on to the rest of the guys that are new here. They understand the sense of urgency not only from us, but coach ‘SP’ has come in and let it be known that the main thing is the main thing. Everybody understands what the top priority is and it’s good to be able to get back to work and get that taste out of our mouth."
Safety Justin Simmons began his eighth training camp Wednesday. His resume includes everything — All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors and a monster contract — but a playoff berth. He says Payton’s impact can be summed up as educational, especially in how he uses statistics.
"It's like a numbers game. The first thing that came to my mind is the movie '21,'" said Simmons of the film about six MIT students who become trained experts in card counting. "He is numbers based. If you do this, you will get this. With him, the way he breaks it down, I recognize what he is saying and what it means."
Will it add it up the team's first playoff berth since Peyton Manning? Will the team regain its homefield advantage and become competitive in the AFC West? Penner wasn't making predictions, but nearly a year into ownership, he sees the blinker on as the franchise attempts to turn the corner.
"One expectation is that year two will be a little bit smoother than year one. It was a great year; we learned a lot. Of course, there are always going to be some surprises," Penner said. “Our expectations this year — we set really high expectations, work really hard to get better, put a good product on the field. Something that our fans can be proud of.”
Javonte Williams avoided the PUP list, but Payton said the running back would be eased back into the mix. In other words, there will be planned days off. The same will likely apply for receiver Tim Patrick and outside linebacker Aaron Patrick, who are returning from ACL surgery.
K.J. Hamler, who began camp on the non-football injury list, was the only player not accounted for during the open media viewing period.
Linebacker Baron Browning watched practice and was wearing a sleeve on his right knee. He underwent offseason surgery, landed on the PUP list and could miss games during the regular season.
President Damani Leech said changing the team's uniform next season remains under consideration.