ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Maybe, just maybe, the Denver Broncos have finally learned their painful lesson.
Last year, they liked -- no, loved -- their chances, their team, their work ethic, their chemistry, their practices, their experience and said as much, whenever asked.
Some even bristled that the 10-win predictions tossed around in the media didn’t do them justice.
Well, they were sort of right. The Broncos didn’t hit 10 wins. They were a nonfactor on the way to a 5-11 season that finished with an eight-game losing streak.
“It makes you think,” linebacker Von Miller said. “... I mean, that’s what we finished, but the whole time we felt like it wasn’t us. But it was, because that was our record, that’s what we did.”
And that has led the Broncos to where they are this time around, on the doorstep of summer in 2018 with a whole different outlook. They still have confidence they can be something, but they seem prepared to force themselves to prove it.
And, by no means, talk about it.
Nothing blooms during May and June in the NFL quite like optimism as teams go through OTAs and minicamps with the usual efficiency of limited-contact practices, but those workouts sometimes can be little more than false positives.
Asked this past week how things have looked thus far, even the perpetually sunny Miller was stomping on the proverbial brakes.
“I mean, it's OTAs,” Miller said. “You really can’t put too much into OTAs. Last year in OTAs I thought we were going to win the Super Bowl. You really can’t put too much into it. I like our grind, I like our work, and I like the way we come up here every day. It feels different. You really just can’t put too much into OTAs.”
In his first year as head coach, Vance Joseph often found himself publicly wrestling with his belief that the Broncos were consistently working hard and having “great practices” only to see a bevy of game-day mistakes as the losses mounted. One of his lessons, he said, was to “coach the coaches” on his staff more and have a more active role in outlining what he believes the Broncos should do on both sides of the ball.
Joseph has been far more measured this time around as well. The compliments usually come with a “we’ll see” addendum.
Even the addition of first-round pick Bradley Chubb, the best pass-rusher in the draft, has been met with a far more even-keeled attitude than it would have a year ago. And that might be the biggest mark the collapse left after an undefeated preseason and a 3-1 start to the regular season in 2017.
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr., one of the few Broncos players who remain from the Super Bowl 50 win, says it was a complicated lesson. Going 9-7 and just missing the playoffs despite Peyton Manning’s retirement and Gary Kubiak’s health issues might have overshadowed some of the other issues.
“I think we felt like after  the talent was there and that we just needed to do some things and then we’d get back to that level,” Harris said in recent weeks. “But last year we didn’t deserve to be a playoff team -- we didn’t. We had a good start to the season, but after that, we didn’t do what you have to do. And that’s everybody, everybody with the team, has to keep that from happening. That’s what we’re really doing now.”
Or as Miller put it: “You really can’t get too high off of a sack in practice out here. I think that’s a joke -- ‘Oh, I had 10 sacks today’-- you really can’t put too much into it.”