There's a vast difference between coming off a Super Bowl win, like the Broncos did in closing out the 2015 season, and missing the playoffs like the Broncos did last season. The Broncos have just completed the second week of their offseason program, but the championship giddiness of last spring is long gone.
"It's the exact opposite," Ward said this week "[I'm] in the dungeon, grinding. As soon as the Super Bowl was over, I started working out and trying to make this season a lot better than last year because not going to the playoffs, it hurt after going winning the Super Bowl. I know everybody on this team came back ready for that not to happen again. I can just see it guys’ demeanor, the way they are working and their attitudes. It kind of reminds me of the Super Bowl season."
Ah, there is the traditional optimism of April creeping into the annual back-to-work discussion. But Ward touches on the same thing that cornerback Chris Harris Jr., safety Darian Stewart, linebacker Von Miller, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and even new coach Vance Joseph did already this month.
The Broncos know somewhere in the months to come they have to regain their edge. Over and over again, they have said they had the talent to make the playoffs last season, but have had to live with the fact they didn’t.
Games got away as their top-shelf defense couldn’t defend the run when it had to and their offense couldn’t win the line of scrimmage when it needed to. Call it the true spoils of victory, but the 2016 Broncos simply never had the unwavering focus of the 2015 team.
And their talent couldn’t overcome that. Which is why Ward’s description of the "dungeon" has a ring to it that could resonate with his teammates.
As Ward spoke this week, the New England Patriots, who went on to win the Super Bowl last season, were touring the White House much like the Broncos had the year before.
“I would definitely prefer to be at the White House, but you know, when you don’t go to the White House, you have to go to the dungeon,’’ Ward said with a laugh. “Until we’re back at the White House, I’ll be in the dungeon.”
Most of the Broncos' offseason questions have revolved around a shakeup on an offensive line that and doesn’t have a left tackle at the moment. And the quarterback, of course, as Joseph has said Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch will have a Grade A competition in training camp for the starting job.
Because the Broncos won five consecutive division titles before last season’s postseason miss, most of the team’s homegrown players had never experienced missing the playoffs before. So, players like Harris, Ward, Miller -- from the team’s defense -- have already addressed the importance of all involved remembering the Broncos need to get a little grit back into their personality.
"Oh yeah, you have to play with that edge," Harris said. "That you bounce back from everything, you don’t start slow like we did too much last year, you just play, all the time, every day in the week too."
"We all came back with fresh minds, ready to work," Stewart said this week. "A lot of us were disappointed last year with not getting to the playoffs. That’s our mindset every year, just championships. Playoffs are expected from this group, and just missing that last year hurt. We’re just ready to get back there."