ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When players are asked about Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett, the first thing they usually mention is his boundless energy, exuberant personality and enthusiasm for the game. It may come as a surprise, then, that Hackett's philosophy for training camp is to take it slow.
"Coaches, we're very excited and we want to come out the gate rolling," Hackett said Tuesday. "It's practice, we're on the field, we want to do every single thing that you possibly can. I think being able to sit back and understand it is a marathon, it's a long camp, it's a long preseason, I think that's something I've learned over time."
Broncos players and fans also know the value of sustained success. In three of the last six seasons, the Broncos started with at least a 3-1 record, only to fall out of playoff contention later in the year. With this in mind, Hackett is preparing the team to sustain physical and mental strength throughout the course of the 17-game season, and hopefully into the playoffs.
"You just can't go crazy in these first couple days," Hackett said. "You've got to slowly work them into it. You've got to be sure that you're giving them enough time to recover. The season's different with the 17th game and the playoffs. It's a long season, and I love the season, don't get me wrong, but it's long. We've just got to make sure everybody's fresh. I think that's so, so important. There's that fine balance between working everybody hard enough, but at the same time letting them recover and letting them be able to get to that highest level they possibly can as they progress throughout the season."
Prioritizing patience and longevity does not mean that training camp will be easy. For the first seven or eight days, Hackett said, players will be bombarded with every single play in the new coaching staff's playbook — a challenge for everyone, not just the rookies.
Fortunately, this will not be the team's first, or even second time, working through the plays. Having gone over them during multiple points in the offseason, training camp will be an opportunity to develop what they've already learned in previous phases of training.
"They've done it in Phase 1 to Phase 2, then they got it all again in OTAs, and now really that's where we get to fine tune everything," Hackett said. "You want there to be, we say a lot of the time, a language. You can tweak things here and there, but there's still a major foundation … understanding what we're trying to accomplish and getting it that third time in a row is where you're going to see some good stuff happen."
Justin Simmons embraced Hackett's gradual approach to preparing the team, noting the importance of putting in the work on the field and in the locker room to be ready for the season. Even though players will be bursting with energy from Day 1, learning to control that excitement and focus on preparation will be key to having success later in the season.
"Going into camp, there's so much excitement and there's so much energy, so much juice," Simmons said. "With the coaching staff and with the guys that we have, you felt that just in OTAs. For tomorrow, it's going to be so hard to level back the excitement, the energy and the juice for so many of the guys because you just get so excited. You just want it to be Week 1, Seattle, tomorrow.
"But there's still so much work that has to be put in, there's still so much film study, practice, meetings individually, player-only meetings, there's so much that goes into being ready Week 1 … It's going to be so hard to scale guys' excitement and energy level back because you're just going to be ready to get after it."