ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — From lengthy drives in the two-minute drill to cohesion on a revitalized offensive line, Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson has been encouraged by his offense's progress through the first weeks of camp.
The offense will look to translate that progress in preseason action against the Arizona Cardinals on Friday, and Wilson explained why he believes the preseason can be a valuable experience for the entire team.
"The opportunity to play in the preseason, there's three great things that happen, in my opinion," Wilson said. "Number one, just stepping in between the white lines, it's a gift. I think it's a gift to be able to play the game that we all love, that God has granted us the ability to play.
"… The second thing is, you get to figure out who you are as a team. In a lot of ways – mentally, emotionally, to celebrate one another. I think the third thing is the best part about it all is — I remember when I was a rookie and I remember my first preseason game … — and just those moments are things that you'll forever remember."
Head Coach Sean Payton said earlier this week that he plans for starters to play against the Cardinals, and Wilson is eager to return to the field. But he is most excited to see how his younger teammates translate their training camp progress to competition against another team.
"As a veteran — this will be my 12th year — it's about seeing those guys develop and grow and take everything they've done at such a high level on the game field," Wilson said.
Wilson knows plenty about the impact a strong preseason performance can have on a player's career trajectory.
Before he was winning playoff games as a member of the Seattle Seahawks, Wilson excelled in his first two preseason games as a third-round rookie in 2012. His standout performances against the Tennessee Titans and the Broncos helped him win the Seahawks' starting quarterback role, but the games meant more to him than just impressive statistics.
Reflecting on his trip to Denver to play the Broncos, Wilson said the chance to face off against a Broncos team led by quarterback Peyton Manning and the passion of the Denver crowd have stuck with him the most in the years since.
"I was just telling somebody, I remember taking my visit here as a rookie and the Denver Broncos had just signed Peyton Manning," Wilson said. "I go into the locker room and Peyton is like, 'Don't I know you from somewhere?' I got to talk to him in the locker room, and then several months later I'm playing them in a preseason game and just watching his greatness, and then me being able to step on the field and throw a couple touchdowns and do some things in that game.
"… I remember the fans. I never forget telling my offensive coordinator at the time, Darrell Bevell, I said, 'Man, this is special.' He goes, 'You're going to be special someday.' I just remember that moment and all the fans, the crowd. Those are the little things that you remember."
JOSEPH PRIORITIZING PLAYER INPUT FROM BRONCOS' DEFENSIVE LEADERS
The Broncos' defense has excelled in training camp so far, and one of the main reasons has been Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph's smooth transition back to Denver.
While Joseph has been diligent in ensuring players have a strong understanding of the Broncos' defense, he also revealed that he's learned plenty from his veteran leaders and incorporated some of that feedback into Denver's defensive plans.
"You want the players to have ownership, especially now and what we are doing right now," Joseph said. "Guys who were here last year, they did some good stuff on tape, so I don't want to dismiss that. … [ILB] Josey [Jewell] likes this one pressure that we put in yesterday. The guys have ideas of what has been good for them in the past, so let's put it in. I'm willing to learn and listen to the veteran players who work at it and have really good ideas. Absolutely, it's been a back and forth with those veteran players here."
One of those veteran leaders, safety Justin Simmons, is reunited with Joseph after learning from him from 2017-2018. Joseph has been impressed with Simmons' growth since his rookie year and said the eighth-year veteran has helped shape the Broncos' defensive system.
"I think the current player, his football IQ is so high," Joseph said of Simmons. "I mean, he can coach the room right now. He's having a great camp, obviously, but his IQ is super high. He's actually fixed about three or four things for me in the last four days because I haven't been in the system and there are certain calls that I was not used to those guys making last year. He explained it to me, and we kind of came together and made it right for both sides. He's done a good job helping me put in the systems. It's been special to watch his growth."
Ahead of the Broncos' defense's first test against the Cardinals, Joseph is confident in the unit's progress through training camp.
"The players are playing fast and they're playing clean," Joseph said. "It's a good group. It's a fully engaged group, and they love to play."