Broncos camp under Sean Payton has entirely different vibe from Nathaniel Hackett’s ‘Camp Cupcake’

By Arnie Stapleton

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Judging by the vibe at Wednesday’s “ramp-up” workout, the Denver Broncos are in for a much tougher training camp under new head coach Sean Payton than the infamous “Camp Cupcake” they took part in under Nathaniel Hackett a year ago.

“We all saw it in the intensity and the sense of urgency from OTAs and minicamp and it just carried over into the practice that we just had,” wide receiver Courtland Sutton said. “… I was just talking to one of the guys in the weight room about how we do anything is how we do everything.”

Players appear to have steeled themselves for a much more rigorous training camp and preseason slate than they had under Hackett, who was canned after just 11 months and four wins.

“You can see it with their weights and the workouts we did yesterday, I think they’re in good shape,” Payton said after the spirited 90-minute practice that officially kicked off his first training camp in Denver.

Payton instilled a culture in which the Broncos went about their business this offseason in relative isolation, keeping the coaching staff he assembled and big free agents he signed off the podium at a time when the Denver Nuggets were winning their first NBA championship and the Colorado Avalanche were coming off a title of their own.

“I thought the offseason went well,” Payton said. “It’s quiet, guys were working and I think that these guys, they want to improve and want to be seen in a different way.”

That salvo resonated with a team that hasn’t had a winning record since 2016.

“The message hits,” safety Justin Simmons said. “I just want to win.”

Payton inherited a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in seven years.

The low point came last year when they went 5-12, a flop that began when they barely broke a sweat as Hackett ditched training camp staples such as 7-on-7 passing drills and 1-on-1 pass rushing drills and filled his schedule with jog-throughs, walk-throughs and “regeneration days,” then withheld most of his starters from preseason games.

Denver Broncos QB Russell Wilson takes part in drills during mandatory minicamp at Broncos HQ, June 13, 2023. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

It was all in the interest of player safety and preservation, but it backfired as the Broncos endured an injury epidemic and they stumbled under Hackett and quarterback Russell Wilson, who suffered through the worst season of his career after coming over from Seattle.

Upon his hiring, Payton clamped down on Wilson’s prolific posting on social media and ejected his personal quarterback coach from the team facility, where Hackett had given the quarterback his own private parking space and his own upstairs office next to the coaches.

Wilson showed up at camp in noticeably better shape than a year ago as he embarks on a comeback attempt that promises to play a major role in the Broncos’ fortunes in 2023.

Wilson recently worked out at Folsom Field at the University of Colorado where new Buffs head coach Deion Sanders looked on as Wilson flashed his stronger, leaner body along with his arm strength.

“Seeing Russ out there, you guys have seen him, he looks amazing,” Sutton said. “Just talking to him, where his headspace is and where he is trying to get to, it’s amazing seeing him in that light and knowing he has a chip on his shoulder because he knows that he didn’t put out what he wanted to put out last year.”

Another player on the comeback trail is running back Javonte Williams, who is 10 months removed from a season-ending knee injury. He avoided the PUP list and participated in drills Wednesday.

“Watching Javonte go down, it hurt me because that’s a guy who loves this game,” Sutton said. “To see him back out there and moving around the way that we know he can move around, it’s very encouraging and I’m looking forward to continue watching him make those strides.”

One player who wasn’t in attendance but on his teammates’ minds was second-year defensive lineman Eyioma Uwazurike, who was suspended for at least a year for gambling on NFL games last year.

“We’ve all made mistakes,” Simmons said. “And as unfortunate as it is, we’re all going to be there for him and support him. But we do have a job. It’s just like if someone gets hurt during the season, as unfortunate as that is, we do have a job. We still need to go out there and win games.”

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