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'We embrace expectations': Amid preseason hype, Broncos focused on working to reach lofty goals

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos are not oblivious to the noise outside the walls of UCHealth Training Center.

Players, coaches and executives are all aware of the expectations as the team enters the 2022 season with a new head coach and a new franchise quarterback.

With Russell Wilson in the fold, the Broncos are a popular pick to make the postseason for the first time since winning Super Bowl 50 — and they're mentioned among the contenders to win this year's Lombardi Trophy. The Broncos went from a team with a strong foundation — without which, General Manager George Paton said Tuesday, Denver wouldn't have made the move for Wilson — to a complete football team.

And as the predictions roll in, the Broncos are leaning into the pressure that will await them this season.

"We know expectations are higher than they've been here," Paton said. "We're not blind to that. We embrace expectations, but we have a long way to go. We haven't won here in five, six years. We won seven games last year. We're 0-0 now. The work starts now. A lot of work to be done. I know we're going to embrace the process. I just look forward to the journey with Coach [Nathaniel] Hackett, with this team and everyone else involved."

Paton mentioned a newfound energy in the building as the Broncos enter training camp, and veteran safety Justin Simmons and wide receiver Courtland Sutton both echoed that there's a different feeling around the team as 2022 begins.

"There's so much buzz and excitement," the seventh-year safety said. "… I know I've gotten up here every year and talked about how excited I am for the season and how I really feel confident and comfortable with the group that we have going in. … This year's just a little different than years prior."

The tone among players certainly feels different, as Tim Patrick declared this offseason that 2022 was "Super Bowl or bust" for the Broncos. Simmons and Sutton didn't shy away from those expectations on Tuesday, as both players mentioned their goal of winning a world championship in Year 1 of the Wilson era.

And as Sutton said, the Broncos have no desire to just barely reach the postseason.

"Getting to the playoffs is a huge thing, but we don't want to just sneak into the playoffs," Sutton said. "We want to host a playoff game in Empower Field [at Mile High] so that everyone can be there and feel the juice of the city right there with us."

Simmons, who has played through six seasons of playoff-less football, said the team's prior struggles would only make it sweeter to find success.

"It'll mean a lot more," Simmons said. "… It's going to mean so much to win. And like Courtland said, to not just squeak into the postseason. I full wholeheartedly believe in this team and that we can host playoff games, make a great run, play our best football in December and have that be our run into the postseason all the way up until we're hoisting the Lombardi Trophy."

While some contenders may prefer to stay away from talk of expectations, Paton said he has no problem with the team's players focusing on lofty goals.

"I would be disappointed if they didn't have that mindset," Paton said. "They have to have that mindset. This is a hard game, and you're training all offseason. That has to be your mindset every time you go out and work out. We love that."

Simmons and Sutton are certainly not ignoring that work, as they spoke repeatedly about the importance of approaching training camp and the season with a day-to-day mindset. They know the importance of each practice and each game in their pursuit of larger goals, and they set a high standard for themselves and their teammates. 

That doesn't change that the belief around UCHealth Training Center is stronger than it has been in at least half a decade.

"I think the thing in years past, at least for me, … [I've been kind of] timid to say like, 'I'm really confident that we're going to do this, we're going to do that' in terms of postseason and saying that with my chest out and being super confident," Simmons said.

With Wilson in Denver to help lead the Broncos, that's no longer the case.

"I'm more than confident in the group of guys that we have and the team that we have and I just saw it when we were competing, just in OTAs," Simmons said. "We can just continue that and keep pushing each other and have it player led, holding each other … accountable and keep this thing rolling. 

"I'm really, really, really excited about our chances of being a really, really, really good football team this year."

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