Looking out for others is what made Courtland Sutton a Broncos captain
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Believe it or not, only four Broncos players on the 53-man roster have been with the team for longer than wide receiver Courtland Sutton has.
It doesn’t seem that way. Perhaps it’s because Sutton lost 15 games to a torn ACL in 2020. And then a year later, he wasn’t back to his old self. But it somehow seems like Sutton just arrived, when in reality he’s been at UCHealth Training Center longer than most of the furniture.
And now, he’s a two-time captain. Tuesday, the Broncos announced that Sutton’s teammates elected him as one of of five season-long captains — and one of two on offense, along with Russell Wilson.
How did Sutton become a two-time captain?
It wasn’t by being vocal.
“I’ll show you more than I’ll tell you,” Sutton id. “You probably won’t hear me as much, but I try to lead by example and try to show the guys what the right way [is]. I’ll take guys off to the side and talk to them. I’m not a big ‘hurrah’ type, I guess.
… “A lot of the time, I take a guy off to the side if they look a little confused or something. [I will] take them off to the side, talk to them and help them understand because I feel like that’s the best way to be able to learn.
“I try to do that for the young guys and anybody else who needs advice or help with whatever is going on.”
What sets Sutton apart is that he looks around to see if anyone needs a pick-me-up. It’s not always obvious. By getting to know his teammates, Sutton learned to identify the signs of someone needing a little extra help.
“It started in high school and college, and even more so in college,” Sutton said, referring to his days at SMU. “You get to build a bond with guys over the time of doing summer conditioning, winter conditioning and all those things. You [could] kind of get the feel when guys get lost in the day of the struggle.
“Spending time with your teammates, you can kind of tell when guys are in their own head when they’re defeating themselves mentally.”
And when Sutton sees those struggles happening, he tries to put himself in the shoes of his teammates. He tries to think of what kind of support he’d like to receive if he were in their situation.
“My leadership style comes from how I feel like I like to be led. I try to bring that with me,” he said. “If guys have a bad play or something, you can see them being in their own head. [I’ll] just pull them to the side and say, ‘Hey look, you got this. We’ve seen you do this a thousand times. Just go out there and do what you do best.’
“I feel like it can help clear up guys’ mental space. That’s where a lot of the game is — it’s played mentally. If you make a bad play and you’re not able to [perform on that] snap, clear it and move onto the next one.”
And in Sutton’s experience, empathy works better than castigation.
“It doesn’t take someone to go over there and yell at them [and say], ‘Hey. You shouldn’t have done that.’ They know they shouldn’t have done that. They know what they need to do. Go encourage them and move onto the next play.
“I feel like you’ll be able to see more success from that [rather] than going at them, yelling at them, and berating them in front of everybody.”
It’s the type of leadership that seems to fit Nathaniel Hackett’s Broncos well. Build up, rather than tear down. Lead by doing, rather than just saying.
Sutton’s leadership manifests itself in those ways. And for the Broncos, that is valuable, because such dignified leadership is at the heart of their overall team-building process.