ENGLEWOOD — On a crisp Monday afternoon, Russell Wilson walked out of the locker room in full navy blue uniform onto the practice field for the first day of voluntary minicamp, and it became real.
He is a Denver Bronco.
The veil of darkness has been lifted. After six years of abysmal offense — Denver has not averaged 21 points per game during this time — and 11 underwhelming quarterbacks, the Broncos are no longer rudderless. Wilson, a nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion, is the unequivocal leader. He takes the responsibility seriously, eager to restore the franchise's glory after six straight years without a playoff berth.
"To be here, to be rooting for the Nuggets, to going to a Rockies game, to going to Children’s Hospital, just happy to be here and be with the guys and go to dinner and have fun. It’s a tremendous honor," Wilson said.
"I know me and Ciara and our kids are excited to be here. It’s been an amazing experience so far. At the end of the day, this is a winning organization. That’s why one of the reasons if I had to go somewhere, I wanted to go somewhere where they wanted to win, and this is definitely one of those places that wants to do that.”
Wilson dived headfirst into the practice. He is admittedly obsessed with learning, and has plenty of time since he only sleeps four hours per night.
Wilson challenges coach Nathaniel Hackett. Hackett embraces it, learning how to handle the why from coaching NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.
On this first day outside, the practice ran efficiently, and featured a different vibe. There was music — "It's the only thing I know," said Hackett, the former hip-hop dance instructor — and throws on all routes, including a curl to rapidly-healing K.J. Hamler and deep throws to Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy.
At one point, Hackett helped keep the pace moving by jumping into a drill as a running back.
"Everybody is coming in. They are so fired up. They are so excited to get out there. In the end, that's what you want. You want guys to come out here and want to practice and want to get better. And Russ leads that charge," Hackett said. "This guy loves practice. Out there at the end, he was like, "Wait, we are done? Can we do more?" I would love to. But we have to tone it down, baby steps."
The juxtaposition remains striking among the two new faces of the organization. Vic Fangio was more of a professor in his tone and actions. Teddy Bridgewater was calmer than a lagoon. Wilson and Hackett work and talk like double speed on a podcast.
"He's an amazing teacher. I think that's what love about it. Everyone is learning at such a rapid pace. He just brings great energy. He's young, he's vibrant. He brings that intelligence to the game," Wilson said of Hackett. "Our relationship is really tight. To give him little handoffs here and there, somebody said they call him "White Lightning." I don't know about that, but he looked good."
Hackett's enthusiasm can overshadow his lack of experience. This is his first crack as a head coach at any level. He looked the part in Monday's snapshot, practice running efficiently, in part because the several players worked out at Wilson's San Diego-area compound last month. But these are just words, not even pages, in a book that will be written over the next 10 months. There will be hurdles, and wrinkles to iron out.
However, the fit seems authentic with Hackett and Wilson. That cannot be overstated as the Broncos race to become relevant again. Wilson reminded everyone of his goal Monday, repeating, "I came here to win." And he plans on staying, which explains why he bought a mansion in Cherry Hills.
"I want to be here, obviously. I want to live here. Hopefully, I get to finish my career here," Wilson said. "The city is amazing. The energy. The people. It's a great sports town. The schools, everything. Everything is a big part of it for me and my family. To be here is such an exciting thing, and hopefully we will win a lot of football games."