ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —When Sean Payton arrived in Denver, he said it was realistic for Broncos fans to "expect a completely different culture" and for the team to win.
Four months later, as the Broncos' offseason program concludes, Payton said Thursday he liked "where we are at now."
That said, there's still plenty more work to be done.
"It seems like every day on Twitter, we are grading something," Payton said. "We're grading drafts, or we're grading offseason programs. I'm not putting a grade on it. I'm pleased with our attendance, and I'm pleased with our health right now. I think the guys are working hard, and yet, it's June. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We will be anxious when the time comes and when training camp comes to get started. We'll go from there."
Payton said he's "anxious to see what kind of team we have," and training camp and the preseason will also start to reveal where the Broncos are compared to the their division rivals.
"Here is the unique thing about the offseason compared to the season," Payton said. "In the offseason, all 32 teams are kind of running this race with blinders on. In other words, I don't know how the three other teams in our division are at this point. I don't know where they are at. I have to assume they are going in a certain direction."
As the Broncos head into a break ahead of training camp, it's critical the team does not regress. Payton likened the team's process to climbing a mountain. Remaining in place or moving backward, he said, cannot be options for the team. Ahead of the Broncos' final offseason practice on Thursday, he communicated that to his team.
"We use a lot of analogies," Payton said. "It's that time away with the science of how quickly you can [regress] or move backwards by even seven days away from lifting and running. It's a chance for everyone to mentally get away from the structure of certain times. Yet, I think these guys understand there has been a large investment here this offseason and it can escape us pretty quickly.
"I'll be specific for you. We are climbing a mountain. Now, I don't know a lot about climbing mountains, but our owner does. [Owner & CEO] Greg Penner has climbed [five] of the tallest peaks in the world and there is a process involved in that — weeks and months. The descent down can take place in a day and a half or two days. There is a simple picture of the Rocky Mountains with a little 'X' on it that says, 'Base camp.' In other words, this is kind of where we are at right now. I don't know if it's halfway up, but it doesn't matter. The point is, this is where base camp is right now, and we can't afford on this journey to decide to hang out at base camp for two weeks or go backwards. You have to acclimate and then continue [on] — one or the other is happening. I don't like the term 'maintain.'
"... The work going north is much more treacherous, difficult and challenging. It is very easy for that to slip. We are all counting on each other. That was the main message."
The Broncos made a major acquisition ahead of mandatory minicamp, as they signed free-agent pass rusher Frank Clark. Asked Thursday whether the team may make any other big moves before the season, Payton said the evaluation process does not stop.
"I would say that's a fair question," Payton said. "We had a meeting last night — the last personnel meeting before we get back here for training camp. We discussed areas — I don't want to use the term 'where we are thin' — but here's where we're heavy relative to the current 90-man roster. Here's where we might be a tick light. This might be what we're looking for. I would say that exists 365 days a year. It didn't used to, but it does now.
"I'll give you one last example. That final cut down from 90 [players] to 53 [players], it happens on one night. There's a lot of work that's done leading up to that. You're watching film, and you have roughly over a day to look at who's available. We tell our players all the time, 'You're not just competing with the depth chart in your room, you're competing with your room on 31 other teams, as well.' We weren't looking for [Saints tight end/quarterback] Taysom Hill when we found him. We were looking at another receiver for a practice squad position. We kept watching the film. This was 11:30 at night. I finally call [Saints VP/Assistant General Manager - College Personnel Jeff] Ireland in and said, 'Who is this No. 7?' He tells me, 'It's Taysom Hill.' I asked him to bring me all of his tape. A day later, we put a claim in, and we were awarded Taysom Hill. That doesn't stop. The hay is never in the barn, relative to things like that, if that's a fair answer."