ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — One of the most beloved Seattle athletes in history has undergone a sweeping change. Russell Wilson will be viewed as a heel for the first time in his career when he arrives at Lumen Field as the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos on Monday night.
Wilson helped orchestrate his exit from the Seahawks, frustrated by the offense, the leadership's reluctance to accept his input and the desire for a new contract.
He found all those things in Denver, embracing the franchise as a chance to enhance his legacy in the second chapter of a potential Hall of Fame career.
Tuesday, Wilson was named of the team's five captains, joined by Courtland Sutton, Bradley Chubb, Justin Simmons and Brandon McManus. All are returning veterans, except for Wilson, who has become the face of the franchise.
This is a huge week for Wilson. Perhaps no player is under more pressure (Don't say Carolina's Baker Mayfield facing the Browns, it's not even close to the same magnitude given Wilson's resume in Seattle). Wilson, 33, is Seattle's all-time leader in completions (3,079), passing yards (37,059) and touchdown passes (292). Only Peyton Manning had more touchdowns in his first 10 seasons.
The Broncos began preparation Tuesday piping in noise to prepare for what safety Justin Simmons admitted will be a "hostile environment." Given the context and the hype for this contest, I asked coach Nathaniel Hackett if he has to talk with Wilson about not trying to do too much.
"I think whenever you're dealing with a quarterback, it's always about living within the system, going through your progressions, and making those right decisions. This is obviously a big game because it's the first game, it's a big game because it's Monday night. It's a big game because he's going to be there. Those are just the facts," Hackett said.
"I think he always says that pressure is a privilege, and I think that's something great that he lives off of, and I agree with that. We're just excited to go play a football game. All these guys have been chomping at the bit and that's what you want. I am excited to see him out there.”
Wilson insists he plays without fear and does not get nervous. His record on Monday Night Football provides ample evidence. Wilson boasts a 10-3 record on MNF — this one will be on Denver7, beginning with our pregame show at 5 p.m. — with 25 touchdowns and five interceptions.
The Broncos, for all of their issues since Super Bowl 50, have been functional in season openers the past six seasons. They are 4-2, including a 1-1 record on the road vs. the Giants (win) and Raiders (loss).
They have averaged 21.2 points per game in openers. That number is expected to inflate with Wilson at quarterback and an offense featuring weapons like Courtland Sutton — he led the team with 776 yards receiving last season — Jerry Jeudy, Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon.
The starters did not play in the preseason, by design. Now it's time for the work to translate when it matters.
"Most definitely. It’s fun to be back in a game week. It seems like all the stuff that led up to this — OTAs, training camp, everything — those are all things that we have to do to be able to get to the spot we want to get to," Sutton said. "It’s fun to be actually back in a game week and to be able to know we get to go out there and perform. [We get to] put all the work we’ve been putting together and put it all on the field [so we can] go out there and have some fun on Monday.”
Right tackle Billy Turner (left knee) practiced Tuesday and Hackett remains optimistic he will start on Monday Night.
Inside linebacker Jonas Griffith (dislocated left elbow) remains on track to play against Seattle. He practiced Tuesday. He injured his arm on Aug. 13 vs. the Cowboys. The opener would be a month removed, considered the fastest timeline for Griffith to return.
The Broncos waived rookie wide receiver Brandon Johnson with an injury designation. If he clears waivers, the Broncos would like to bring him back. Johnson would have made the team had he not suffered high left ankle sprain on the first play vs. the Vikings in the final preseason game.