ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Less of Russell Wilson could mean more success for the Broncos.
The quarterback admitted what Denver7 reported a few weeks ago after talking with him before a flight to San Diego. Wilson has lost weight — he didn't put a number on it, but it's probably around 10-to-15 pounds — and appears in a good place physically and mentally as he attempts to rebound after the worst season of his career.
"I think, first of all, you reflect on every year. Every year I have been in the National Football League, there are things you can always do better, always work on. You always want to be in the best shape of your life. And I am ready for that. Better than ever. I am leaner, meaner," said Wilson, whose 16 touchdown passes and 60.5% completion percentage in Denver represented nadirs.
"There's always the journey. There's always the journey. There have been a lot of highs and some tough lows. Adversity, you've got to be able to handle it all. And I will be ready to handle it."
The idea of Wilson bouncing back seems more realistic under new coach Sean Payton. Payton's offenses averaged 27 points per game for 16 seasons. There is always the qualifier that he worked with Drew Brees, but Brees was a walking question mark with a sketchy shoulder, not a potential Hall of Famer, when he landed in New Orleans.
Payton's ability to bring out the best in Wilson — using plays that amplify his strengths and mobility — with a balanced attack remains central to caffeinating an offense that ranked last at 16.9 points per game.
So, what has Payton seen from Wilson?
"He's picking it up. The timing and all things required, for the first five weeks we were just lifting and running. And now we are getting into the football activities. We are ahead of schedule on the practice," said Payton who limited his presser to five minutes because of the team's tight schedule. "He's picking it up good. He looks good. He looks sharp."
Wilson, 33, has not hidden his desire to play for Payton. He mentioned him by name in January after coach Nathaniel Hackett was fired, and New Orleans was on his wish list of teams when trade talks first surfaced two years ago.
Both have a lot at stake. Wilson is trying to return to his Hall of Fame arc, and Payton could solidify his place in Canton with another Super Bowl appearance or victory.
Legacies will wait for another day. In the present, Wilson seems to have taken to Payton, who brings discipline and structure just from watching practice that was absent last season.
"First of all, I think Sean is one of the best coaches to ever coach in this game. He's intense, he's focused. He's such a great teacher," Wilson said. "All of us are learning more every day, how to practice at the highest level. It's about always believing and focusing on the details."
Wilson will not be asked to gulp Doan's pills and carry this team on his back. The entire offseason has seen Payton acquire help. The Broncos revamped the offensive line with the additions of right tackle Mike McGlinchey ($52.5 million guaranteed) and left guard Ben Powers ($28.5 million guaranteed).
The investment, as Wilson called it, should microwave this team's learning curve. Improved health could help provide rocket fuel. Running back Javonte Williams, only 7 and-a-half months removed from ACL surgery on his right knee, looked good in his limited reps, cutting, and showing burst.
"Javonte is one of the best back's in the game. He's a guy that's hard to tackle. He has great hands. He strikes guys in protection," Wilson said. "He brings a lot of confidence to us."
The receiving room, which has Catfished Broncos Country because of injuries, looks intriguing. Tim Patrick (ACL) watched practice, K.J. Hamler (torn pec) took limited reps and Jerry Jeudy were all together, a snapshot of terrific potential. Jeudy produced Thursday's biggest play, a deep corner bomb from Wilson. Jeudy later left practice after taking a shot on his legs as he jumped for a ball, but Payton said he was OK.
"A thigh bruise," Payton said. "He's fine."
It's a May. There was excitement this time last season. But this feels different. Payton didn't leave New Orleans. He brought New Orleans with him, as messages are being sent daily to everyone inside and outside the building. There are even new media guardrails — no tweeting during practice, for instance.
"It was my policy with the Saints and I just carried it over here," Payton said. "Look you guys got the rookies for an open locker room (last week), and I took away your little Twitter posts during practice."
Former Broncos kicker Brandon McManus told Denver7 he was not given a reason for his release, and "was absolutely shocked" by the decision. He signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday. Payton addressed the move. "Ultimately, you are constantly looking at the best interests for your team. And a lot of times, what your musts are. And there will be transactions between now and training camp." ...
Left tackle Garett Bolles was on the practice field and moving well. He is returning from a broken leg/ankle.
Veterans Kareem Jackson, D.J. Jones, and Baron Browning were not at practice and Payton said he had communicated with all players absent.