MILE HIGH MONDAY

Mile High Monday: Hackett sets the right tone for the Broncos in finale

Aug 29, 2022, 6:32 AM
Nathaniel Hackett...
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos finished up the preseason the right way. On Saturday night, the Broncos defeated the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 23-13. It’s not the win or the score that mattered most; it’s the way the team played with more energy and focus that I appreciated.

I like when the preseason is over. Now, it’s time to game plan and prepare for the regular season which could lead to a postseason run.

I also like contemplating life and sports when driving around with the top down on my old Jeep TJ! The following is a result of those trips during the week.

Buckle up, let’s take a ride through my thoughts.

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All I Needed to See

I was excited for the Broncos game against the Vikings for a few reasons, but at the top of the list was the return of wide receiver K.J. Hamler. He’s been on the road to recovery since a knee/hip injury knocked him out last season after just a few games. Both injuries required surgery, and Hamler had a much more intense road ahead of him than others with just one of those major injuries.

He was chomping at the bit this entire offseason to get back on the field. Hamler was back to running at full speed in OTAs, and he told me he was faster than ever before. Watching him on the practice field, I could believe it as Hamler was a blur when he hits top speed. At the start of training camp, Hamler was on the Physically Unable to Perform list as a procedural move for the Broncos. They wanted to ease him back into action and see how his body responded, and if he needed more time to heal then having him on the PUP list during the regular season was an option because of the move.

On Saturday night, Hamler got to get on the field and make some plays for the Broncos. He was targeted five times and finished the night with three catches for 18 yards. That’s not a ton of yards, but it was all I needed to see. Hamler was able to go out there at full speed, run routes, take big hits, and keep on going. That had to do wonders for his confidence, and it showed that he’s ready for the start of the 2022 season.

The Broncos are going to use two-tight end sets most of the time in this offense. However, when they go to three wide receivers, Hamler gives them a weapon like few teams have in the NFL. His speed makes him a threat to score anytime he touches the ball, and Hamler’s moves in the open field can make defenders look silly. He may not catch many passes this year (I have him projected to catch 20), but the plays he makes can be big ones because of his elite speed.

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Scoop! There It Is

Baron Browning is a star in the making. If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the last few months or listened to me on the air, then you’ll know I appreciate what Browning can be for the Broncos this year and beyond. To recap, Browning was my No. 50 player in the 2021 NFL Draft, and I felt he provided upside as an outside linebacker although he played both outside and inside during his college career with the Buckeyes of Ohio State. The Broncos scored Browning with the No. 105 pick, and I was elated about the value and his future with the team.

Last year, Browning moved to inside linebacker after starting rookie minicamp and part of OTAs on the outside. He looked good on the inside, but I still felt he was at his best rushing the passer from the outside. This year, under new head coach Nathaniel Hackett and new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Browning was moved back to the outside exclusively. He was a standout player in training camp, but when the lights are on during gameday Browning looks even better.

He shined in the first preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. Browning was quiet against the Buffalo Bills in second preseason game, but he came storming back with a huge play versus the Vikings. Browning at able to scoop and score when Vikings quarterback Sean Mannion fumbled the ball, and then he danced like there was no tomorrow after the play! It’s a preseason play, but Browning still showed what kind of playmaker he can be. Even though he didn’t get a sack on that play, Browning was around the ball, found it, and then had the frame of mind to pick it up and run it back for a touchdown untouched. It was a great play, and it shows just a bit of the upside he has as a reserve player behind Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory.

We’ll see what the future holds for Chubb and whether Gregory can play most of the 2022 season. I could see the team getting an extension done with Chubb before the end of the regular season, somewhere around the bye week, if he can stay healthy and play up to his potential. Gregory’s status for Week 1 is up in the air, but the team will most likely ease him back into action as the season wears on. Browning is right there to do more if Chubb gets banged up or if Gregory needs more time to properly heal. There is no doubt that Browning is the type of player you want to feature as much as possible, and I hope he gets a lot of chances to shine this season even if it is as a backup. Browning’s play will have Broncos fans dancing in the stands for sure.

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Why So Serious?

After the win over the Vikings, Hackett seemed to be quite serious for most of his postgame press conference. Hackett is a jovial coach, and he did try to crack a joke near the end of his press conference, but there was a more serious tone to start things off.

The loss against Buffalo was an embarrassing one. That was not Broncos football, and Hackett had to get the attention of his team this week in practice to let them know it was going to be different this week. Again, it’s just the preseason and the results don’t matter – but the optics do. Denver looked horrible against the Bills, but they came storming back this week.

We’ve all wondered what Hackett would be like when things weren’t going smoothly. I believe we saw a little bit of that this week in practice. Hackett admitted that he lost his voice (again) because of the offense’s lackluster performance on Tuesday. Hackett is a hugger, not a yeller, but he had to get into the offense’s kitchen to let them know they needed to be better. In addition, Hackett had a higher standard for his defense than what we saw against the Bills.

I appreciate the attitude of coach Hackett. He’s good to his players. So long as they perform, Hackett is going to give them all the praise. However, if they do not play up to their potential, he won’t sugar coat anything. Hackett has returned the standard to the Broncos. Things are not going to be okay if this team is mediocre. For far too long, being average has been acceptable around UC Health Training Center. Those days are thankfully done.

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Passion Project

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is one of my favorite actors. No matter the movie, I’ll be excited to see what The Rock does in his performance. Not every movie he does is great, but I like watching him act and I think he’s the best action hero of our time. I really appreciate that The Rock is a big comic book fan.

As a lifelong comic book fan myself, I can remember a time when comic books were seen as something only kids or nerds could enjoy. I used to dream of a day when we could see Spider-man on the silver screen, and now we live in a world where there have been several movies of the webslinger, and comic book movies are incredibly popular. I like how The Rock is a comic book fan, not because of the medium’s current popularity, but because that’s how he grew up.

The Rock is set to star as the anti-hero Black Adam in the upcoming movie “Black Adam” which is hitting theaters later in the fall. Any comic book fan will tell you that Black Adam is one of the greatest villains of all time. He’s the archnemesis of Shazam, and over the last decade or so, Black Adam has become an anti-hero who seeks to clear up his name and reputation. It’s a great character that not many outside of the world of comic books will know. The fact that The Rock is not only starring as Black Adam, but is a fan of the character, means we could be in for something special. Many actors play superheroes in the movies, but when you have a passion for the character and the property it comes through on the screen in a different way. I’m beyond excited to see “Black Adam” later this year.

Are you excited for The Rock’s portrayal of Black Adam? Hit me up on social media and let me know!

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