Yet there was a palpable edge to the Broncos on Monday as they gathered for the first day of the team-organized offseason workout program. The last time so many Broncos were on hand at team headquarters, they were cleaning out locker-room stalls 18 hours after a double-overtime divisional-round loss to the Ravens on Jan. 12.
Ninety-three days later, the Broncos are still closer to that moment than the season to come. The pain of the 38-35 loss might be gone for many Broncos; the bitter taste and the memory aren't.
"I can tell you the older I get, it doesn't get any easier to deal with losses like that," said cornerback
The loss served as a reminder of what defines success in the NFL. A 13-3 record is an accomplishment to savor; it was the top record in the league last year and matches the Broncos' best since their back-to-back Super Bowl wins of 1997 and 1998. But it isn't enough.
It's not enough for the Broncos to rest on their laurels. Rather, they need to proceed with the notion that those laurels don't even exist, that nothing of significance has been won by this Broncos generation.
"I know that John Elway wants to sort of set a kind of attitude and an edge around here, maybe a little bit of an uncomfortable atmosphere, which I believe in," Manning said. "Last year was good but it wasn't great. And we're looking for that great season, and to finish off with a championship season.
"We have so much work that we have to do. Today was the beginning of it that we were allowed to do in Phase I."
Being at that stage limits what the Broncos can do. They can't work on the field with position coaches and coordinators -- only with strength and conditioning coaches. They can't use footballs in their workouts, except for quarterbacks throwing to recievers. They can't even conduct a one-on-one drill, because a receiver can't run a defended route.
With such work forbidden, the urgency must come from within. You don't learn that without experience. No Broncos have more than Bailey (14 previous seasons) and Manning (15), so the best path for their teammates is to follow the detail-obsessed examples of two leaders in their mid-30's.
"When you lose at the end of the season, you want to find ways to get better, period. Whatever it takes," said Bailey. "One thing that bothers me is I go in that defensive meeting room and I look at our goal board and we've only got one Bronco head (signifying an accomplished goal) up there. Stuff like that bothers me. So how can we go forward and get better? That's one way we can do it."
If Bailey and Manning are bothered and uncomfortable, you can expect their teammates to feel the same way -- today, tomorrow and until they've turned Jan. 12 into nothing more than an unpleasant memory, rather than the day that defines their perspective.