It’s only been a month since his introductory press conference, but Sean Payton is already focused on the gritty details of reestablishing a winning culture for the Denver Broncos, who haven’t been to the postseason since 2015.
“Every little thing matters almost in an obsessive way,” Payton recently told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “All of those details matter inside the framework of the field. We obsess as coaches and teachers on doing the little things well. That has to exist in every area of your building — in your equipment room, in your training room, in your cafeteria. Pretty soon, the building moves in a direction in concert, and it’s pretty cool when that happens.”
Culture and chemistry were two things noticeably absent in Denver’s nose-pinching 5-12 campaign under Nathaniel Hackett last season. However, at the start of free agency this week, Payton went to work on creating a team that will rely on toughness and brute strength to climb the ladder in the AFC West.
The Broncos spent big money on the offensive and defensive lines on the first day of free agency, signing right tackle Mike McGlinchey, left guard Ben Powers and defensive lineman Zach Allen to high-dollar deals.
Along with those three, Payton and GM George Paton added a run-blocking tight end in Chris Manhertz, a pass-catching running back in Samaje Perine and a familiar face to Payton in former New Orleans fullback Michael Burton. Denver also brought back the team’s leading tackle from last season in linebacker Alex Singleton.
Due to the team’s blockbuster trade last season for quarterback Russell Wilson, the Broncos do not pick until the third round of this year’s draft. So Payton had to use free agency to jumpstart the rebuild around Wilson, better protecting him up front by putting together a front wall that can create running lanes for RB Javonte Williams once he returns from his ACL injury.
The Broncos are attempting to surround the 34-year-old Wilson with enough talented pieces to make his job easier after he experienced his worst season as a pro last year. That followed the Broncos signing Wilson to a five-year, $242.5 million extension before the start of the season.
“Russ has moved forward,” Paton told reporters at the combine. “We’ve all moved forward. We’ve talked about last year and it’s been well-documented. It didn’t go our way. It wasn’t all his fault. We’re all to blame and we have to improve. We have to move on. With Sean here, with our new staff, I think we will.”
The Broncos gave up a league-leading 63 sacks and averaged just 114 rushing yards a contest last season, No. 21 in the NFL. In McGlinchey and Powers, Denver added two of the better run-blocking offensive linemen on the open market, players from teams built around running the football in the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens. That shows Payton is attempting to remake Denver into an offense that can impose its will on the rest of the NFC West.
Manhertz and Perine give the Broncos two more imposing blockers who can help them run the football on the perimeter and serve as able pass blockers for Wilson.
Payton knows what he’s doing when it comes to running the football. While the Saints were known for future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees and the offense’s ability to push the ball down the field, Payton is a disciple of Bill Parcells, who always created balance on offense. During his 16 years as the head coach of the Saints, Payton’s rushing offense ranked in the top half of the NFL nine times, including his last six years in New Orleans.
The Broncos have lost 15 games in a row to the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver’s AFC West rival. If the Broncos hope to unseat Andy Reid’s stranglehold on the division, Payton has to figure out a way to own the line of scrimmage.
“Discipline, toughness, football makeup and character are going to be real important for who is a Denver Bronco. … And look, it’s not for everyone,” Payton said during his introductory press conference. “But that’s the approach we’ll take.”
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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