Denver7 | SportsBroncos


Broncos open offseason with business mindset, questions lingering

Coach Payton sets new tone, but will it be enough to end playoff drought?
NFL Owners Meeting Football
Posted at 10:43 AM, Apr 11, 2023

DENVER — For the first time Tuesday, the Broncos met as a full team under new coach Sean Payton.

The hints dropped about what this moment would be like were hard to miss over the past few months. Payton looked at last year's 5-12 record not with compassion or understanding, but disgust. He has taken shots at the offense — "It was hard to watch" — and special teams. He has praised the defense, while acknowledging NFL teams must play complementary football to achieve their goals.

So, what was the likely message to the group at UCHealth Training Center?

"It's probably going to be — I don't want to say no-nonsense, but here are the things that are going to help us win," Payton told CBS reporter Amanda Balionis Renner during a recent round of golf. "That's kind of where we are at. This offseason needs to be difficult. We are rolling up our sleeves a little bit."

While Payton has remained available in spurts, his players have gone virtually underground. There's no media access this week, fitting for a team that Payton views as "anonymous donors" to the cause of success. It represents a juxtaposition to last season under coach Nathaniel Hackett, who arrived with a caffeinated personality and created a joie de vivre among players.

Reality has clobbered the Broncos over the head since Super Bowl 50. They have missed the playoffs seven straight seasons — only the Jets have a longer active drought — and posted six straight losing seasons for the first time since 1963-72.

In assessing the 2022 mess, Payton is doing something completely different: owing to his resume of 152 wins and a Super Bowl ring. When the Broncos gather this week, the plan is to lift and work out. For a month, even though the NFL permits a veteran minicamp April 24-27.

“There’s a progression, I think, when you train athletes. I think we’re too quick to move out of Phase 1 into football after three weeks of lifting and running," Payton said at the NFL owners meetings two weeks ago. "That’s not enough time. We’re just going to lift and run.”

Payton believes this will improve the team's health, which was unfortunate as it was embarrassing last season. The Broncos led the world in pulled hamstrings, the most head-shaking moment occurring when receiver K.J. Hamler was hurt in the first practice back from a bye week.

The arrival of a new coach brought new faces to help avoid missed games. Payton brought in former Saints strength and conditioning coach Dan Dalrymple and hired Beau Lowery as the team's vice president of player health and performance.

"Beau Lowery is the best I've ever been around," Payton said of Lowery who worked with the Saints from 2014-2021. "He was a complete game-changer for us in New Orleans who reshaped how we operated in our training room and throughout our sports performance areas."

Staying healthy is a critical step for a team that has lacked depth, revealing a drop off when injuries surface. But dramatic improvement — say from 5 to 9 or 10 wins — requires an attitude adjustment. Simply put, the Broncos need to become tougher. Every move Payton has made this offseason suggests Denver will get more physical, especially on the ground. The key is the ability to run not when you want to but when you have to, which explains the addition of bruiser Samaje Perine.

This will take pressure off quarterback Russell Wilson — clearly this is Payton's plan to help the veteran rebound after his worst year — and control the clock, which should make a strong defense even better.

The Broncos added right tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Ben Powers and brought in competition for center Lloyd Cushenberry, who improved in pass protection last season, but must become better at the point of attack to keep his starting job. They also signed a true blocking tight end in Chris Manhertz, and could add another one in the draft.

This different spring is preparing the players for a difficult summer. They will be in pads when allowed. And they will play in the preseason. Star safety Justin Simmons told Denver7 in January that he was ready to play every down in the exhibition games if it resulted in a winning season. His desire should be reflected in this roster's mental state.

What they were doing was not working. Some of it was talent-related, evidenced by Payton adding more than a dozen new players in the first weeks of free agency. Many of those players either worked previously with Payton, were on winning teams or both.

The process of setting the culture begins in earnest this week. Payton is not looking to make it easy. Accountability will be mandatory among all players, no exceptions, no outliers, no excuses.

"They went through a tough season a year ago, and part of it is getting past it," Payton said. "It’s bought up and brought up, and brought up and (at) some point, there’s closure on it."

It's time to move on, move forward, hard hats and gloves required.