The jury remains out on whether the difficult 2022 season for Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson happened because Wilson lost his fastball at 33 into 34, or whether former head coach Nathaniel Hackett failed to properly utilize Wilson’s talents.
That question will be conclusively resolved in 2023, because new coach Sean Payton isn’t going to do anything that Wilson can’t do well.
“It wasn’t the type of season he wanted to have,” Payton said Monday when describing Wilson’s 2022 campaign, via the transcript of the introductory press conference provided by the team. “I feel like the last couple of weeks, we saw a little bit more of maybe what we were expecting or accustomed to. I say, ‘We,’ [meaning] you all when you signed them. I think the No. 1 job for us as coaches in evaluating our players [is deciding] what are the things that they do really well? Then, let’s try to put them in those positions. At least that’s the starting point, and I think that it is important to highlight their strengths and minimize maybe any weaknesses.”
It’s basic and it’s simple. But, still, many coaches don’t do it. They are beholden to their systems over their players. They try to jam a square peg into a round role, instead of adapting the offense to the unique abilities and limitations of the players who will be executing the plays.
Also, read that quote again. Near the top. Tucked into Payton’s response is a strong clue that, once Hackett was fired with two games left, interim coach Jerry Rosburg started to bring out some of what Wilson does best. And that’s exactly what Payton will be doing.
“Here’s what I know,” Payton added regarding Wilson. “I know that he’s a hard worker. I know he’s an extremely hard worker, and that’s important. You take that and you understand the skill set. He’s won a lot of games in Seattle. . . . Then you go from there. That’s the same case — although it’s a much more visible position, it’s the same case and the same goal for us with every player on this roster. What do they do well? It’s easy to point out what players don’t do well, and there are certain coaches that tend to look at it that way. I kind of was taught early on, ‘Hey, what is it they do well? Let’s have them do those things.’ None of us want to go — I don’t like singing, period, but none of us want to be at a karaoke bar with a song we don’t know the words to. How do we how do we get them comfortable and highlight their strengths? That’s the process that’s going to begin right now. I’m learning about every one of these players, not just Russell.”
That’s consistent with things Payton said back in October, when asked about how he’d improve Wilson after a rough start to the season.
“I’d want a cut up of all Russell’s pass plays of 30 or more yards from the field, and I’d want to see are there some schemes that he felt very comfortable with,” Payton said at the time. “Like, I know that they did a great job in Seattle of bringing him off of a naked boot[leg] and then pulling up and we all saw that like throw back to [receiver Tyler] Lockett across the field where the ball traveled 60 yards in the air. Then, I’d want to look at another film of his red-zone touchdown passes inside the 20. And so what I’m asking for from assistants, I’m asking for some of his greatest hits and to make sure we have those song lyrics available. And if not, let’s put them in.”
It’s hard to know much about what specifically will happen with the Broncos in 2023. But one thing is clear. A year after being required to figure out the words to Smells Like Teen Spirit on the fly, Wilson will be resorting to the football versions, for him, of Happy Birthday and Row, Row, Row Your Boat.