Denver Broncos OTAs Preview: Sean Payton Hopes Less Is More

As the Denver Broncos OTAs open up, there are two very important questions that need answering. Only Russell Wilson and Sean Payton have the answers.

Last season, the Denver Broncos OTAs opened with tons of optimism. By the time players showed up, the ink on the deal that sent Russell Wilson to the Broncos from the Seattle Seahawks had been dry for a few months. A young receiving corps was ready to take the next step forward, and a new coach, fresh off of a season in which he ran an offense led by a league MVP, was coming into the building.

Of course, that coach was supposed to lead to the NFL MVP going to Denver, and Wilson was a consolation prize. So, it was no surprise that it went all downhill from there. Nathaniel Hackett didn’t last the full season, Wilson became a punchline, and the locker room fell apart. Now with Sean Payton running the ship, optimism is back in Denver. But, this year, it’s tempered.

2023 Denver Broncos OTAs Preview

Can Russell Wilson Return To Form?

This isn’t really breaking news. The Broncos need to make the Wilson situation work. Their success is dependent on it. Before Wilson was a punchline among NFL fans (Let’s ride!), he was a perennial MVP candidate and one of the best passers in all of football. When he was traded to Denver, the expectation was that winning would follow. Broncos fans got everything but.

There had long been murmurs about Wilson as a teammate, dating back to Seattle’s legion of boom era. Richard Sherman notably criticized the treatment he received from the coaches and felt he was distant from his teammates. It didn’t take long for those same issues to begin making headlines in Denver. But on the field, Wilson’s talent was never in doubt. Until last season.

Hackett was brought to Denver with the thinking that he would be able to lure Aaron Rodgers with him. Instead, Hackett needed to settle for Wilson, and the lack of chemistry was evident from Day 1.

Payton is now in command, and if anyone can get Wilson right, it’s him. When Wilson was in Seattle, his passing skills often drew comparisons to Drew Brees. The soon-to-be Hall of Famer was coached by none other than Payton.

MORE: Denver Broncos Schedule 2023

Payton will build this offense around Wilson and give him the opportunity to be successful doing what he does best. Even Brees is expecting big things. Back in February, Brees told ESPN’s Ed Werder, “To me, this is set up to be Russell Wilson’s prime — especially with Sean Payton and a system that’s going to be built around him,” Brees told Werder. “This is a great opportunity for Russell Wilson.”

When the Broncos’ OTAs open, all eyes will be on Payton and Wilson. Will we see signs of early chemistry and future success? Or are more growing pains expected? If it’s the latter, Wilson could be next out in Denver. If it’s the former, the Broncos could be a sleeper team in the AFC playoff race.

How Different Will Sean Payton Be From Nathaniel Hackett?

When Denver’s OTAs opened last year, it must have felt to Broncos players as if they were going back to school and taking nothing but AP courses, but without ever taking the foundations of the subjects. Then, Hackett had the players study the new verbiage of his playbook, the concepts, etc.

There were tons of position group meetings. Meetings about meetings. In fact, on-field work didn’t start until two weeks into Denver’s OTAs.

At the time, according to 104.3 The Fan in Denver, Hackett famously said, “We have a very, very large playbook.” The word “very” doesn’t appear in the quote twice by accident.

MORE: Are the Broncos Closer To Rebuilding Than Contending?

This year, Payton is taking a much different approach. Judging by how the team did last year, who can blame him?

Under Payton, the Broncos will not be holding a voluntary veteran minicamp, something with having a new coach, they are entitled to. They also aren’t having any meetings. This is a starkly different approach compared to how Hackett ran the Broncos’ OTAs.

Will the players be more loose? One common complaint of last year’s squad was how tight they seemed, playing unsure and slow. The thinking is that it was due to all of the information they were given from Day 1 without being able to put any of it into practice. Information overload can prevent players from simply performing.

Payton’s approach could pay dividends. When Denver’s OTAs open, we’ll get a chance to see if different is equivalent to better.

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