BRONCOS

It’s hard not to wonder if the culture has really changed in Broncos Country

Aug 25, 2022, 2:43 PM
Nathaniel Hackett...
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)

Nathaniel Hackett’s approach to getting the Broncos ready for the season has drawn a lot of attention. His jog-through practices and re-gen days were the talk of training camp. His no-starters approach to preseason is controversial. Even his decision to turn the third day of offseason minicamp into a team-wide “field day” was a topic of conversation.

At each turn, the Broncos have told us it’s much ado about nothing. They’ve stressed that the team’s first-year head coach knows what he’s doing.

Hackett has defended his approach. He went on “Schlereth and Evans” during training camp and explained his methods.

“It’s a new NFL; it’s just that simple,” the head coach told the co-hosts. “There’s more science than we’ve ever had in this game.”

He didn’t stop there.

“I’m pretty sure you didn’t wear an extra helmet on top of your helmet,” Hackett said to Schlereth, a three-time Super Bowl winner in the 1990s. “So I think there are so many different things, and our full focus is health. The healthiest team at the end usually has the best chance to go ahead and make a run in the playoffs. That’s just fact.”

It wasn’t just him. To a man, Broncos players defended their head coach.

Dalton Risner appeared on “Stokley and Zach” during training camp and tried to explain why the team’s practices were a good idea. Denver’s starting left guard was all in on the plan, contrasting it to past regimes.

“The thing that Hackett does a great job of is when we come out here, we’re ready to work,” Risner said. “I’m not going to use any names. But for the last three years, we might go four or five days in pads in a row. Right? By the time you get to that third or fourth day, the boys are beat.”

He was far from the only one. Garett Bolles, Bradley Chubb, Kareem Jackson, Albert Okwuegbunam and Malik Reed all stood behind the podium during training camp and defended their head coach.

“I love it,” Jackson said. “It’s my 13th camp, so dialing it back every third day — he can dial it back every second day if he wants. I won’t argue with him at all. It’s great; it’s all in the name of getting to the season healthy.”

That sounds good. But will the Broncos be ready to play football when things kick off in Seattle on Sept. 12?

That’s been the debate. The “old school” crowd has their doubts.

They were quieted a bit by the Broncos performance against the Cowboys. Denver dominated when Dallas visited for a joint practice. They also won the preseason tilt between the two teams, chalking up a 17-7 victory.

That made the soundbites sound a little more legit. It provided some evidence that the team was responding to Hackett’s methods.

The players said they’d reward their coach’s trust. They vowed to answer the bell and play hard when called upon.

There are now reasons to wonder if that was true. It’s starting to look more and more like they were paying lip service to that idea.

First, there was the team’s performance in their second preseason game. Losing to the Bills didn’t matter. Falling 42-15 in a game they seemed completely disinterested in was a concern.

But it’s only the preseason. The loss provided the opportunity for the Broncos to learn from their mistakes. They could show that they knew how to respond to adversity.

Then, they came out and laid an egg in practice on Wednesday. Just days removed from a dismal effort, the Broncos had such a bad practice that their head coach lost his voice because he was barking at them so much.

“In the end, we’ve got a standard and they didn’t live up to that yesterday,” Hackett said on Wednesday. “They owned up to it. They understood it. It wasn’t just one guy, but that kind of stuff is unacceptable. You’ve just got to continually keep your focus.”

At this point, an eye roll is in order. It’s nothing but talk, talk, talk. It’s words that don’t mean much of anything. They’re just catchy quotes that make everyone feel better for a short time. But in the end, their hollowness comes through, usually in the form of losing football games.

That’s been the norm for five years in Denver. During the worst stretch of football in the Broncos post-merger history, there have been all sorts of positive things said at the UC Health Training Center. And in the end, they’ve all turned out to be nothing but spin.

Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio were once praised. Trevor Siemian, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco and Teddy Bridgewater were once positioned as the answer at quarterback. New attitudes, senses of urgency and renewed focus have all been talking points.

Blah, blah, blah. On and on it goes.

As of right now, the platitudes coming out of Broncos training camp this year seem like more of the same. The Broncos have talked repeatedly about a “new culture” at Dove Valley. They’ve insisted that things are different in 2022.

Talk is cheap. And Broncos Country is tired of hearing it.

Actions speak louder than words. And in the last four days, they’ve been sending a disturbing message.

It’s feeling more and more like nothing has changed. It appears as though Nathaniel Hackett is being taken advantage of by a group of leaders who are most talk and not much action.

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It’s hard not to wonder if the culture has really changed in Broncos Country