ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A season of disappointing losses leads to stories that relate little to on-field performance.
Wednesday, Broncos players found themselves answering questions about Russell Wilson's leadership after an NFL Network report on Tuesday that the quarterback "had lost some people in the locker room."
I asked left guard Dalton Risner about it on Wednesday.
"I know that I know who Russell is," Risner said. "I respect him so much. I respect the way he integrates within our locker room, and I feel like all year, he hasn't been able to catch a break. People just making up rumors about him, whether that be he's not a good teammate or he's lost the locker room, apparently, or whatever it is.
"A lot of it is just so outlandish to me, because I get to see him work every day. I get to see how much he cares about the guys in the locker room and the devotion he has to this game and the attitude he brings to practice every day and the attitude he brings to the football field. We may not be having a good season, we may be 3-8, but I respect the heck out of Russell Wilson and the way he's leading this football team amongst everything he's had to deal with this year."
Of course, cynics will suggest Risner is following the company line. Having talked to Risner from March until now, his stance about Wilson has not changed. It doesn't mean some players haven't lost confidence in Wilson, who arrived as a savior to end the franchise's six-year playoff drought and streak of five straight losing seasons. That is only natural for a 3-8 team that exists as one of the league's biggest disappointment.
But multiple players who communicated with Denver7 took the report personal, feeling Wilson was being singled out for a team that has numerous issues beyond the quarterback's slump. Justin Simmons, a captain, offered his view on Wilson, then made it clear he would address football questions moving forward.
"I’ll say this. I’ll say Russ is an amazing leader. He’s an amazing teammate, and leadership never falls solely on one guy. I know that the quarterback position is always at the top of every football team. It’s a quarterback-driven league, but leadership never falls on one guy. We have really good leaders here. What’s happening right now with the team — just this season — falls under the umbrella of a bunch of different guys — myself included," Simmons said. "Russ has been nothing but great. Obviously, it’s has been the season any of us have wanted, but I just, I can’t fathom thinking of that stuff.”
Wilson knows he has not played well. He is on pace for a career-low 12 touchdown passes with a 58.9 completion percentage. He hasn't thrown a scoring pass to a receiver at home this season, and the Broncos rank dead last in scoring. Wilson was asked if he feels like he has lost players in the locker room.
"No. First of all, everybody wants to win. We all want to win. Nobody wants to win more than me and this team, and that’s what we want to be able to do. I think also — I have great relationships in that locker room. Whoever is trying to tear it down, you can’t," Wilson said. "There is always noise, especially when things aren’t going the way you want it to all the time. The thing is that you don’t bat an eye. My biggest goal every day is to continue to try to lead at the highest level, to be consistent every day with my approach and to never change. Not let the highs of life change you and not let the lows (change you) — just be consistent with your approach."
Coach Nathaniel Hackett, whose team would seemingly have to execute a dramatic U-turn to save his job, pushed back against the Wilson report, calling it gossip. Regardless, this is where the Broncos find themselves, sunk with six games left looking for glimmers of light as they deal with injuries, ineffectiveness and criticism.
Wilson, who turned 34 this week, bristled at the suggestion he's washed, and said his belief in his ability remains steadfast.
"My confidence never wavers. It doesn’t waver. I know how much work I put into it. I know who I am, and I know what I’ve done. I know this team, too, and how much these guys are working," Wilson said. "My confidence doesn’t waver.”