WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Broncos are just weeks away from returning to UCHealth Training Center.
General Manager George Paton announced Sunday ahead of the NFL's Annual League Meeting that Denver would begin its voluntary offseason program on April 11. As a team with a new head coach, the Broncos are permitted to start their offseason program earlier than other clubs.
The voluntary offseason program will be a crucial step for the Broncos as they implement their new schemes.
"I think right now is kind of learning the language," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said of his goals for the offseason program. "Everybody talks about the language of the systems, and it's like learning any language. There's a lot of different things that go into it and you want everybody to feel very comfortable, to be able to enter on to a field and be able to execute and adjust. That's the biggest thing we have to do ... just make sure the guys understand all the formations, protections to runs to the whys of everything that we're doing so that we can get rolling."
Paton also spoke about the intangible benefits of the voluntary program.
"Really, really important to develop that chemistry and camaraderie within the locker room," Paton said. "[I] just look forward to getting everyone there on the 11th. I know our guys are working now on their own. It's going to be good to get them with this staff and start the process. It's a process, and it starts on the 11th."
A CROWDED AFC WEST
The Broncos' division rivals have been far from quiet this offseason, as every team has made a division-altering trade. Paton, though, said the Broncos' focus must be internal.
"You always know what's going on in the division, and obviously the teams are stacking up in our division," Paton said. "It's early to say this is the best division, or whatever people are saying. We're worried about the Broncos and trying to get up with the division. It's hard for us to really talk about competing in our division until we do. We really haven't competed in our division in five or six years. We really just need to worry about ourselves and not worry about all the other stuff."
Paton did note that even without wide receiver Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs' offense will still be a challenge to stop.
"Until they trade the quarterback and the head coach, I'm probably not going to worry about that too much," Paton said. "[Hill]'s a great player. They still have a lot of really good weapons. They have one of the best coaches. They have one of the best quarterbacks. They've set the standard, and we have a long way to go."
LOADING UP THE DEFENSE
The Broncos' trade for Russell Wilson sent shock waves through the league, but the bulk of Denver's moves came on defense. Outside linebacker Randy Gregory, defensive lineman D.J. Jones and cornerback K'Waun Williams were among the Broncos' key additions, and Hackett said his evaluation came from the challenge in playing against them in the past.
"Jones and Williams have given us nightmares for the past three years, so I definitely, after talking with George, wanted to go back to tall the people that were very difficult to go against and were very frustrating to go against and you had to have a plan for," Hackett said. "So I think that's why they're here. ... Jones would demolish everybody. He's a game-wrecker inside there. It's hard to find those guys on the inside that can get that push and penetration. He's fantastic. K'Waun, he's a dude. Just the type of guy he is in the locker room, what he brings as far as a veteran standpoint, and his ability to tackle and blitz is really exciting to have on this team."
Gregory, meanwhile, is another intriguing player that Hackett said is still ascending in his career.
"Without a doubt," Hackett said of if Gregory could continue to improve. "To be able to put him in a two-point stance and be able to use his vision and his power and speed is going to be exciting to watch."
VERSATILITY ALONG THE LINE
The Broncos prioritized their offensive line in free agency, as they re-signed Calvin Anderson and added Tom Compton and Billy Turner.
Hackett said the team's search for a starting offensive line would not be position focused. Instead, they'll move players around to find the best combination.
"We're going to throw everybody everywhere," Hackett said. "One thing I've learned in the past, I think last year we probably had 10 different combinations of offensive line through everybody. It's not necessarily that people will be going for one spot. They've got to train in all the spots, so if something happens they can play anywhere at a high level."
A STRONG BACKUP
The Broncos ensured they had experience behind Wilson, as they signed Josh Johnson to compete for the reserve quarterback spot. Paton said it was "really important" to add a veteran to the room.
"[He's] someone who can help Russ and 'Ryp' [Brett Rypien], but if he has to play, can go in and win football games," Paton said. "I thought he played well this year. He had two games [in which] he threw over 300 yards. He's seen it all and he's a pro. When you talk to him, you'll see it. He's like a coach on the field. He's just going to bring that. It's a great room with Russ and 'Ryp,' and you bring another veteran who really works, knows the process. It's really going to help our room."
Paton confirmed the Broncos still hope to re-sign safety Kareem Jackson and running back Melvin Gordon III.
"We've spoken with both their agents," Paton said. "It's ongoing. We'd love to bring everyone back, but you just can't do it. We're still talking with those two. Really good players."