The Los Angeles Rams have yet to win a preseason game and will look to end on a mile high note on the road this Saturday against the Denver Broncos. These two last played each other on Christmas day where LA brutally dismantled Denver, mercifully putting an end to the Nathaniel Hackett era. You’re welcome Broncos!
With Hackett out and Sean Payton in, I spoke with Ian St. Clair from SB Nation’s Broncos blog Mile High Report on the much-needed culture shift in Denver and more. Turf Show Ramily, let’s ride!
Q - Who have been some notable standouts for the Broncos during training camp and preseason?
A - The big one for me, and it should be for Broncos fans, is Russell Wilson. Toward the end of training camp, he started to string multiple strong practices together. And by some accounts, looked the best that he has since the trade to Denver. In terms of the games, the offense has been pretty vanilla, and for good reason. But the second preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers gave us a glimpse of what this offense could look like. Designed runs from Wilson. Effective running game. What I’m looking forward to is the aggressive playcalling that Sean Payton is known for. On defense, two guys have stood out: Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper. If both are able to carry over what they’ve done in the preseason, that’s a big bonus for Vance Joseph and his defense.
Q - Catching you on the flippity flip, who would you consider to be the biggest disappointment or letdown during that same span?
A - This is a bit of a copout, but the injury to receiver Tim Patrick is the biggest disappointment. There was hope he would be able to put the ACL tear he suffered last preseason behind him and become the impact player he’s been for the Broncos. Then he tears his Achilles. It’s just a brutal stretch of bad luck for Patrick who is the unquestioned leader for this team on offense. It would have been nice to see Patrick make an impact in Payton’s offense and build on the rapport that he and Wilson built last offseason. After the first preseason game, you could have listed the offensive line and kickers. But both were better against the 49ers.
Q - How would you assess Denver’s rookie class so far and have there been any surprises among them?
A - The media in attendance raves about linebacker Drew Sanders. And Payton is now onboard with that as well. Payton told the Denver media this week the rookie made significant improvement in his second preseason game. The other rookie that will get a lot of attention, and has, is receiver Marvin Mims. The speed and athleticism he brings is something that could add another element for Wilson and this offense. Mims played in his first game against the 49ers with mixed results. He could also make an impact as a returner. The biggest surprise is undrafted running back Jaleel McLaughlin. The rookie is so much fun to watch and he brings a speed element to the backfield they could really take advantage of come the regular season. It’ll be interesting to see if McLaughlin is also used in return situations. But he’s definitely a lot of fun to watch and should make the regular-season roster.
Q - Russell Wilson has been the subject of savage mockery ever since he was traded to the Mile High City. What kind of grade would you give him for his limited preseason action through two games and how confident are you in Russ being able to run Sean Payton’s offense?
A - Since I haven’t been able to see him at practice, I have to go off the people in the Denver media that I trust. And as I said earlier, he’s looked the best he has since being in Denver. The key to Wilson’s success is the offensive line, as is the case for most quarterbacks. The line definitely improved against the 49ers, and should get better when right tackle Mike McGlinchey returns from injury (he was back at practice this week and should be ready for the opener). I really liked the way Wilson looked against San Francisco. What will be fun to see is the aggressive playcalling from Payton and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. One of the things Wilson is known for is how good of a deep-ball thrower he is. If the Broncos are able to run the ball as effectively as Payton expects, that could be a factor that puts the offense over the top (pardon the pun). But it’ll also be the quick hits and screens. All of that to say my confidence in this working is based on Payton and his ability to coach. He’s one of the best in the NFL and I think Wilson is poised for a big bounceback season.
Q - The Broncos clearly needed competent coaching after the Nathaniel Hackett crapshow last season. What has Payton’s arrival meant to this team and what are realistic expectations for the team in such a crowded AFC?
A - That’s an insult to crapshows, by the way. Hackett was an unmitigated disaster as a head coach. The biggest change Payton has already brought is the culture. The Broncos have been a losing franchise since Peyton Manning retired, unable to find the path to success with a map and a compass. The first step is the culture. To not only say but show that what’s gone on the last seven seasons is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated is massive. Payton is also a great leader and effective communicator. We got a sense of that in his interview with Jarrett Bell when he not only ripped Hackett but the Broncos. I just wish Payton wouldn’t have walked back what he said because it was all true and needed to be said. In terms of expectations, most of Broncos Country is in prove-it mode. Since Super Bowl 50, this organization has been historically awful. So stop saying it and do it. For myself, this team should compete for a playoff spot in the AFC. And it’s all because of Payton and the culture change he’s already put in place.