PHOENIX — It can be easy to overlook the early stages of the voluntary offseason program.
The closest thing to real football — 11-on-11 work — isn't permitted until the third stage of the program, when teams can hold organized team activities. For the first several weeks, clubs across the league will instead focus on their strength and conditioning programs.
The Broncos are slated to begin their voluntary offseason program on April 11, but there will be no question about the importance of Phase I in Denver.
New Broncos Head Coach Sean Payton has spoken about the importance of the details at every level of the organization. As the Broncos begin their voluntary offseason program, that means there's a clear understanding of the value of the strength and conditioning program — and of the work that must be done during the upcoming weeks.
"I think the first thing is really just the weight lifting program and the running," Payton told DenverBroncos.com's Phil Milani about the focus of the offseason program. "Look, it's really more of [a] get to work [mentality]. We've got a lot of stuff we want to do, but the first month of this offseason will be more weight room and conditioning. It's an area that I think we need to be a lot better in. We had a lot of injuries last year. And so we looked closely in the offseason at everything from the training room, weight room, practice. All those things, there's probably a number of things that we didn't do a good enough job with.
"Hopefully we can make those corrections, but we've got a lot invested in training the players, conditioning the players. That's the first message, is getting ourselves in football shape and getting to work."
As Payton mentioned, Denver has shown a commitment to improving in those areas. The Broncos recently hired Beau Lowery as vice president of player health and performance and Dan Dalrymple as head strength and conditioning coach. Payton said both men will help put the Broncos in position to succeed.
"[There will] be a lot of sweat that's ahead of us," Payton said, "and that's the first step."
When the Broncos begin the offseason program, they'll have a roster that includes a bevy of new players. Denver has signed more than a dozen free agents, including right tackle Mike McGlinchey, guard Ben Powers and defensive end Zach Allen.
Payton said the Broncos were aggressive because of their limited draft capital, and he liked the way the class took shape.
"There were some goals that we had in place if the right players were available," Payton said. "We feel like we've been able to address those. You kind of put together this must, need and want list — and we hit the musts. We really paid attention to the offensive line. We found another pressure player on defense. We knew we might have a chance of losing a good pressure player. I think overall, we felt like it went really well."
Free agency was one of Payton's first chances to work alongside General Manager George Paton, and the Broncos' head coach said the two have "really hit it off."
"It was really good," Payton said. "We spent almost every day together, and we have been now looking at college tape. I love the fact that he's such a football guy. George's father was a high school coach.
"… I've enjoyed just the work and the grind a little bit, if you will. I had heard all that about him, and then you have a chance to work with someone and it's been really good."
The Broncos will have an opportunity to add more players in late April, but the offseason program will arrive a few weeks earlier.
And whether running or lifting, the Broncos are set to put in the work.