ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Losing is never easy. The preparation required to play makes the pain of defeat intolerable.
Unless, of course, it becomes your identity. The Broncos became comfortably numb over the past six seasons, failing to reach the playoffs since their Super Bowl 50 victory. That the last five seasons have failed to produce a winning record did not help.
With the arrival of quarterback Russell Wilson, the veil of darkness has lifted. The Broncos have a quarterback who can match up with any in the league, and specifically the AFC West lead singers who have crushed their dreams since Peyton Manning retired.
So it was on a chilly Tuesday in April after a voluntary optional team activity that Justin Simmons talked with optimism and eagerness reserved for September. The Broncos, forever trying to turn things around, are finally at the intersection with their blinker on.
"It has given guys confidence," said the Pro Bowl safety of Wilson's arrival. "Having a guy like that who can do that with his presence is exciting. And defensively, the No. 1 thing we have talked about so far is we know we are going to be competing, we are going to be in games. Russ is known for a bunch of different things in a positive way. And what an opportunity for us defensively to solidify it."
It remains impossible to overstate how Wilson infiltrates the group's mindset, evidenced in Denver history by the play of John Elway, Peyton Manning, and for two magical months, Tim Tebow. Nothing seems impossible when your best player has the ball in his hands.
Wilson in the building has let imaginations run wild and left smiles creasing faces.
"I think you all can feel it. We all can feel it. The juice is just different. I wasn't around when Peyton was here, but from what I hear the juice and the energy is pretty similar. We know we have a guy who has been to the top of the mountain, has won a Super Bowl, knows what it's like to be at the highest level," said former Pro Bowl receiver Courtland Sutton, who is training without a knee brace this offseason.
"I think everyone understands that the expectations and standards have been raised to everyone's best; from the cooks to the equipment guys to the video guys. We have to understand we are operating at a different level."
With Wilson, it's hard to reconcile the Broncos failing to score 21 points a game, something they have not done in six years. It's hard to see the Broncos not contending for a playoff berth. Wilson has reached the postseason eight times in 10 seasons.
But the new bump is not reserved for Wilson alone. While talk of the quarterback creates buzz that drowns out everything else, let's not forget the Broncos boast a new coach in Nathaniel Hackett. Hackett brings a reputation of Red Bull energy and a knack for forging relationships.
This played out in the first meeting with the team.
"I know how this goes, it's not like it was missing in the past, but the thing that stuck out is the connecting," Simmons said. "Every guy would walk in, and (Hackett) would be like, 'What's up?' He would try to have a quick conversation with most guys. And music was playing. And you guys have all heard him talk about, I don't know how to say it, his dancing background. He likes music. So he's talking about music and how inspirational it was for him growing up. It just felt like genuine conversation when you first meet someone."
Nobody wins anything in April. But there's no denying how much the view through the windshield has changed with Wilson and Hackett.
Broncos left guard Dalton Risner shared in the excitement of a fresh start when Denver7 asked him about the opening of OTAs. "New staff, new QB, and work to be done!" ...
Simmons was thrilled at the return of strong safety Kareem Jackson, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal that can nearly double with incentives. Communication is critical in the secondary, and Simmons admitted that Jackson can help more than anyone given his experience. "He's like a brother to me," Simmons said. ...
The Broncos sit nearly two weeks out from the draft with multiple needs. Tops on the list include: Cornerback, edge rusher, tight end and a longterm answer at right tackle. Denver has nine picks, including three in the top 100, but its first is not until No. 64. ...
Veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph, per Fox Sports, worked out for the Broncos recently, but was not signed.