DENVER — Becoming an NFL leader doesn’t happen like the Afterschool specials.
It takes more than solving a crisis at a critical moment. It requires rolled up sleeves, a tireless work ethic and an obsession to win.
Quarterback Russell Wilson ticks all the boxes. Overnight, his resume made the Broncos relevant. In the days that followed, his commitment made him a contender.
Eyes might roll with his stream of flagship videos on Twitter and YouTube. But the reality is, what Wilson does matters. And, with Peyton Manning as proof, it works.
Wilson hosted the 2022 summer camp with his receivers, tight ends and linemen Garett Bolles and Lloyd Cushenberry last month. He even brought Jerry Jeudy a week later when his schedule permitted.
Two things stood out from Wilson’s gathering. First, it was not just a temporary camp. Many quarterbacks have copied Manning’s plan to bring the receivers together, but details are lacking. That equates to a few passes, an evening, and a nice dinner. It’s more about building chemistry than improving offense.
What set Wilson’s camp apart was simple: He has an NFL-style classroom in his San Diego-area home. He took care of the whiteboard while his teammates took notes. Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick also appeared to provide instruction and guidance. This can speed up the development of the group. It was the equivalent of an offensive setup that cannot officially begin until April 11 with first media availability the next day.
What happened on Wilson’s manicured football field may microwave this team’s progress and leave the sobering days of 20 points per game in the back sight. Wilson took pictures of Cushenberry. He threw passes. And he had no time constraints. It cannot be overlooked. Wilson could ask receivers to run the same route five or 10 times. He could have multiple routes at the same time, focusing on different ones with each click. This does not happen during team practices. A game triggers once, maybe twice, and that’s only if there’s a glaring error. Repetition is priceless.
And the plan is for Wilson to get the group together in July before training camp begins at the end of the month.
For a team trying to end a six-year absence from the playoffs, here’s what victory looks like.
And it is necessary. The AFC West is set up as a UFC cage match. All four teams present compelling cases as contenders. The Chiefs are the reigning tyrants, having won six consecutive division crowns. They own the Broncos, bluffing them 13 straight. No Broncos quarterback has beaten them since Manning retired. This will change under Wilson. Even if it means separating the two matches.
As the Chiefs returned to the pack with Tyreek Hill’s trade to the Dolphins – stopping with speed can replace speed jokes, Hill is a unicorn who changed coverage, inspired fear and demanded respect with every play – they still boast quarterback Patrick Mahomes and coach Andy Reid. While the coaching staff needs to improve, the Chargers present the most talented roster after adding Khalil Mack and JC Jackson to pair with Justin Herbert, who played as John Elway at the end of last season. And Josh McDaniels’ offense will make the Raiders dangerous.
That leaves the Broncos.
Denver needs significant improvement. They are 5-13 in the AFC West over the past three years, absolutely worked by the Chiefs and Raiders. Offensively, they will be more creative, versatile and explosive. They have plenty of weapons and room for more excuses even though coach Nathaniel Hackett and his team are experiencing 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 in the last 10 games — to get back to his Pro Bowl form as he regains his flurry and separation off the line of scrimmage in his second year retired from ACL surgery. It’s time for Patrick to keep doing what he’s been doing, and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam rewards the team’s faith after dispatching Noah Fant.
Second-year running back Javonte Williams features as a centerpiece, Batman action scene every time he takes the ball – Boom! pow! Slam! And the team kept the door ajar to bring in free agent Melvin Gordon. Gordon changed agents recently and, according to a source, he remains in communication with the Broncos. Denver remained interested if the price is right – say around $3 million with escalators? – believing that two backs are better than one.
The Broncos could also add another cornerback, although the draft is starting to take center stage. Denver will likely add defensive backs and a right tackle with its slew of nine picks that could grow to 10 in the coming weeks.