ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Ahead of the Broncos' Back Together Saturday practice at UCHealth Training Center, Russell Wilson took the mic.
"That's the plan, to win the Super Bowl," Wilson told the thousands in attendance. "It's going to take a lot of hard work. It's going to take you guys standing up, being as loud as possible, even today. You guys are preparing us for something greater."
On Saturday, they did their part. More than 7,000 fans attended the full-speed practice — officially 7,121 people — as the Broncos set a training camp attendance record.
They lined up early, as a snake of cars set up outside the Broncos' parking lots more than two hours before the team's practice. Once inside, they made plenty of noise — cheering for Broncos touchdowns and defensive highlights.
"Broncos Country! Everybody keeps talking about it," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said after practice. "It just got me fired up hearing the screams and stuff. Just speaking on that — it's awesome. … Everywhere you go, everybody talks about where the best fans are and stuff like that. It's pretty awesome when you come out here the whole [berm] is gone. No green is showing, just orange. I think the guys love it, we love it, and it's about all of us together. We need that crowd to be able to help us win a lot of games."
Country music star Kenny Chesney, set to perform at Empower Field at Mile High on Saturday night, and Hall of Famer Peyton Manning were among those who turned Back Together Saturday into one of the team's most memorable training camp practices.
"I got to talk with him for a little bit," Hackett said. "I absolutely love him being around. If that doesn't get you fired up to practice and just be part of the game, then I don't know what does. Just seeing them out there is pretty amazing. I know that a lot of the guys did [talk with him]. A lot of guys saw him, and he was talking with them. I absolutely love when he's around. I mean, he's Peyton Manning."
If Saturday's practice was any indication, the excitement has returned to Broncos Country.
Across the league, some training camps include 7-on-7 passing drills and 1-on-1 battles between receivers and defensive backs or offensive and defensive linemen.
Not in Denver.
The Broncos have yet to run 1-on-1 drills, and there's perhaps been one period of 7-on-7, at most. Under Hackett's direction, the Broncos have worked nearly exclusively in 11-on-11 sets.
"I just want to play football," Hackett said. "There are different philosophies across all of it. … For me, I just want the guys to be able to play football together. That's the game, and that's what it's all about. We're trying to jerry rig some situations. We'll jerry-rig some stipulations on both me, [Defensive Coordinator] Ejiro [Evero] and [Offensive Coordinator Justin] Outten to try and make it so that we can kind of jerry-rig some of those other things that you might do, whether it's a pass period, a man [coverage] period, a zone [coverage] period, a pressure period. Besides that, in the end, it's about those guys being in the huddle, going out there, playing and executing together. I just want to create that as much as possible."
Both Evero and Outten echoed Hackett's sentiment, and Evero noted 7-on-7 work is not an accurate representation.
"I feel like 7-on-7 is not real football — a quarterback [can] hold the ball longer," Evero said. "It's not the same lanes in terms of what the quarterback is looking at. I just feel that as much real football as you can play as possible — that's what I love about what we're doing. Our first period is normally a run, play-action or pass period where we're focused on first and second down. To me, that's real football. We're working on things that we're actually going to do."
'HE'S CONFIDENT IN HIS ABILITY, AND SO AM I'
After the Broncos drafted Samford's Montrell Washington on Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft, General Manager George Paton said the team hoped Washington would serve as its return specialist.
Through the first four days of training camp, Washington has seemingly done his part to remain among the team's top options.
"Montrell has come out here, he's done a great job as far as body position and as far as catching mechanics," Special Teams Coordinator Dwayne Stukes said. "Montrell is a hard worker. He's humble but he's confident. He's confident in his ability, and so am I. I've been pleasantly pleased with how Montrell has handled it."
The next test, which will arrive in a little less than two weeks, will be to catch punts and kick in game conditions.
"Now, playing in a stadium or playing in front of a crowd is a lot different than in training camp right here," Stukes said. "But when he enters the stadium, he should be the first on the field to catch the punt off of a live foot when we go to preseason, when we go to the regular season. Then you have a better gauge on what Montrell can do once we get to the preseason or when we get to a competitive period out here where we're actually tackling or something like that. Right now, we're just running down and tagging, so he should be as confident as he can be because nobody is going to hit him in this type of setting."
Washington will be among the players who will aim to give the Broncos' special teams unit a boost after a few down years. Stukes stressed that while the emphasis may be on the team's offense and defense, the special teams unit will also be critical to the Broncos' success.
"There are only 11 guys starting on offense," Stukes said. "There are only 11 guys starting on defense. We have 11 starters on special teams, also. I really want to get this point across. Special teams is just as important as offense and defense if we want to win games around here."