ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The practice field at UCHealth Training center could've well been the grass at any number of any NFL stadiums during Russell Wilson's career.
Over and over during his 10 years in the NFL, Wilson has watched a pass rush bear down on him only to escape to freedom. A shimmy here, a dodge there, a spin for good measure. For a decade, Wilson has broken out of near-impossible situations to find room to run or throw a bullet downfield.
It was no different Monday, as the Broncos held their first practice of organized team activities. As Denver focused on red-zone work, Wilson's ability to keep plays alive repeatedly stood out.
For the Broncos' offense, that provides a dangerous aspect that not every team presents. And while the Broncos certainly want many of their offensive plays to work on schedule, the ability to operate in imperfect moments can increase the margin for error. At certain times in the past several years, it's seemed the Broncos could afford no mistakes to march down the field or score in the red zone. With Wilson, perhaps his ability to wiggle out of the pocket gives the team a little more wiggle room.
"We hit some on time, hit some a little bit later," Wilson said Monday. "You move around and make some plays. There's a lot of good stuff. We've got to be able to do it all. We've got to run the ball great in the red zone, too. It's all about touchdowns when you cross [into] that red zone. The whole game is about touchdowns, but especially when you get across [into] that red zone. You want to be the best in the league to be able to do that. That's a key thing. We want to be at least top five, and I think that's something that's really important."
And when a team can operate off schedule, it increases the chances that they can find points in crucial moments. For an opposing defense, it only creates false hope.
"Even when you're out here and everybody thinks that they sacked him, you just laugh because you watch the tape and there's a lot of times he gets out of things," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said. "He bobs and weaves and then all of a sudden scores touchdowns. … They do have to understand that Russell Wilson's back there and can take off at any time and extend a play. It definitely adds a whole other threat."
Wilson's certainly not the only quarterback in the league that can cause a headache with his legs. Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert are close at hand in the AFC West, and Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson are among the other quarterbacks on Denver's schedule. And that makes working against Wilson at this time of year a benefit to a defense that may otherwise rue the challenge of stopping him.
"It's great for us, honestly," Justin Simmons said. "We're going to see that with Mahomes twice a year, we're going to see that with Herbert. [Derek] Carr has the ability to extend plays. I'm just thinking in our division — I can go down the list of the teams that we're going to play. It seems like the game each and every year is just elevating more and more to quarterbacks that are more mobile and can extend plays with their legs. That's great. Especially in the red zone, because it's not about the length but the width. You can get open. All you need is this much separation, and with a guy like Russ that can extend plays like that, we've seen [that] time and time again throughout his tenure. Defensively for us, that's great reps because you're always like, 'That was a sack!' But real life, he can probably make some people miss right there and get the play going. That's good work for us too."
Wilson made people miss on Monday — and it's just one element of his game that has Denver poised to make a run in 2022.
"[When] he throws the ball, it's beautiful," Hackett said. "He's what we call a natural thrower. The guy just can spin it. Watching him today make some of the plays he did with his feet, dodging and moving, it looked like me when I was back in flag football when I was younger. He's doing great and we're excited to see him just keep going in that system."