DENVER — Becoming an NFL leader doesn't happen like on after-school specials.
It takes more than resolving a crisis in a critical moment. It requires rolled up sleeves, a tireless work ethic and an obsession with winning.
Quarterback Russell Wilson checks all the boxes. Overnight his resume made the Broncos relevant. In the days since, his commitment has made them a contender.
Eyes might roll with his stream of highlight videos on Twitter and YouTube. But the reality is that what Wilson is doing matters. And, with Peyton Manning as proof, it works.
Wilson held Summer Camp 2022 with his receivers, tight ends and linemen Garett Bolles and Lloyd Cushenberry last month. He even brought Jerry Jeudy out a week later when his schedule allowed.
Two things stuck out about Wilson's gathering. First, this was not just a passing camp. Many quarterbacks have copied Manning's plan of bringing receivers together, but the detail is lacking. It amounts to a few passes, a night out and a great dinner. It's more about building chemistry than improving the offense.
What set Wilson's camp apart was simple: He has an NFL-style classroom at his San Diego-area home. He manned the whiteboard while teammates took notes. Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick appeared to be providing instruction and pointers, too. This can accelerate the development of the group. It was the equivalent of offensive install that can't officially begin until April 11 with first media availability the next day.
What transpired on Wilson's manicured football field can microwave this team's progress and leave the sobering days of 20 points per game in the rear view. Wilson took snaps from Cushenberry. He darted passes. And he had no time constraints. That cannot be overlooked. Wilson could ask receivers to run the same route five times or 10. He could have multiple routes going at once, focusing on different ones each snap. That doesn't happen during team practices. A play goes off once, maybe twice, and that is only if there is an egregious error. The repetition is invaluable.
And the plan is for Wilson to bring the group together in July prior to the start of training camp at the end of the month.
For a team attempting to end a six-year absence from the playoffs, this is what winning looks like.
And it is necessary. The AFC West sets up as an UFC cagematch. All four teams present compelling cases as contenders. The Chiefs are the reigning bullies, having won six straight division crowns. They own the Broncos, blistering them 13 straight times. No Broncos quarterback has beaten them since Manning retired. That will change under Wilson. Even if it means a split in the two games.
While the Chiefs came back to the pack with the trade of Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins — stop with the speed can replace speed banter, Hill is a unicorn who changed coverage, inspired fear and demanded respect on every play — they still boast quarterback Patrick Mahomes and coach Andy Reid. While the coaching staff must improve, the Chargers present the most talented roster after adding Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson to pair with Justin Herbert, who played like John Elway at the end of last season. And Josh McDaniels' offense will make the Raiders dangerous.
That leaves the Broncos.
Denver requires significant improvement. They are 5-13 in the AFC West the past three years, absolutely worked over by the Chiefs and Raiders. Offensively, they will be more creative, versatile and explosive. They have plenty of weapons and room for no more excuses even as coach Nathaniel Hackett and his staff experience growing pains.
It's time for Jerry Jeudy to become the receiver his talent screams that he is. It's time for Sutton — 20 catches over the last 10 games — to return to his Pro Bowl form by regaining his burst and separation off the line scrimmage in his second year removed from ACL surgery. It's time for Patrick to, well, keep doing what he's done, and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam to reward the team's faith after shipping out Noah Fant.
Second-year running back Javonte Williams figures to be a centerpiece, a Batman action scene every time he takes the ball — Boom! Pow! Bang! And the team has kept the door ajar on bringing back free agent Melvin Gordon. Gordon changed agents recently, and, according to a source, he remains in communication with the Broncos. Denver has stayed interested if the price is right — say roughly $3 million with escalators? — believing two backs are better than one.
The Broncos also could add another cornerback, though the draft is starting to take center stage. Denver will likely add defensive backs and a right tackle with its bevy of nine picks that will could grow to 10 in the coming weeks.