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‘He’s having a blast’: Happy-go-lucky Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett is no typical NFL taskmaster

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ENGLEWOOD, Colorado. In the early stages of Denver’s second training camp on Thursday morning, Russell Wilson and the Broncos quarterbacks worked in tandem with the centers, running the game and smuggling.

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Wilson, however, also ran with him.

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He turned and passed the ball to freshman head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who everyone in the area knew was perfect on his trail and blocker because he commentated on the move.

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Hackett is usually easy to hear on the driving range. During the off-season program this spring and summer, the new chief earned a reputation as the offensive’s loudest and most frequent talker. He scolded veteran security officer Kareem Jackson, who himself was a notorious babbler. He saw the safe Justin Simmons and others working on a mini-camp exercise that used something from the attack scenario for the later part of the practice, and he called the group, saying, “Oh, don’t work on that now! Don’t be afraid!”

On the first day of camp, Hackett said he thought real west coast attack fashionhe and his coaching staff bombard Denver players with information right out of the gate, but the fact of the matter is that the Broncos are also bombarded with Hackett’s energy on a daily basis.

“Everyone is talking about it and it’s contagious,” said tight end Eric Saubert. “He’s a really positive guy and he teaches you that way and he really cares about what he’s doing.”

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Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett hugs wide receiver Trey Quinn (84) during training camp at the UCHealth Training Center.
Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett hugs wide receiver Trey Quinn (84) during training camp at the UCHealth Training Center.

Like many aspiring coaches, Hackett borrowed a lot from others he worked with when putting together his first training camp as a person in charge. On Friday, Denver struggled to break the walking pace after running at full speed the first two days of camp. Cause? That’s what he’s learned at Green Bay over the last three years.

“It’s always about three days. Day 3 is when all sorts of bad things happen,” Hackett said. … “You want to make sure you’re fresh, and then you come back really strong on the fourth day. This is what we will continue to move forward with.”

However, since arriving in February, the casual approach has become its own unique, energetic brand.

“At first I thought, you know, wait a week, he can calm down,” center forward Lloyd Cashenberry said. “But no, every single day he’s the same guy we love.”

Talk of energy and positivity may sound like offseason chit-chat, but general manager George Paton this week praised Hackett’s energy levels, saying he’s “rebooted the whole building.”

“He has a lot of positive energy, but we have focused on the day to day and are getting better every day,” added Paton. “We don’t worry about what’s going on outside. We know what’s going on inside these walls, and we’ve caught fire inside these walls. Our guys are thrilled.

“It is useless for us to talk about it. We have our expectations within our walls, and we are eager to receive them.”

Here’s the catch: Everyone in the organization readily admits that the bar was raised significantly – both internally and externally – when the franchise was sold to Wilson in March. Hackett and a relatively inexperienced coaching staff are tasked with ending the NFL’s second-longest active playoff drought in six seasons, and doing so while playing in what is arguably football’s toughest division.

It’s hard to tell if Hackett is feeling nervous or pressured at this point.

“For him? Have you seen him here? This man lives here, man,” Melvin Gordon, running back, said. “He plugs in. I’m sure he’ll have his days, but for the most part he’s here, having fun, flying. And he’s bringing that to us, and that’s the energy that we’re bringing.”

Gordon said he heard a couple of defensemen walk off the field the other day after practice and say, “Dude, that was fun.” Not like before head coach Vic Fangio.

“It’s a little different, man,” Gordon said with a smile. “But COVID didn’t help in this situation, especially in the first two years here.”

Training camp drags on in a rush and no doubt we’re in for trouble at some point after what has been a generally quiet off-season program and a smooth first week of work this month. No coach can be a good cop all the time, but Hackett recently explained why he believes that treating his players positively is almost always his standard operating procedure.

“I think it’s my job to create those relationships,” he said. “Yes, you can be a friend, but even with your friends, your brother, your family, my children, you stand your ground and there are things you stand for. The idea is that they know it, and when they know it, then we’re good.

“I think there’s a line, but it’s just about good relationships and communication.”

Ultimately, what happens from September 12th in Seattle and beyond will matter the most. At the same time, the players are adamant that it looks different than in years past, and it’s not just the quarterback leading the pack.

“Big difference. Big difference,” Cushenberry said. “Especially at camp, when the days get longer and throughout the season, you need that energy. Over the years, the days have gotten a lot longer, sort of dragging on. We didn’t have much energy. With Hackett, the guy you see in the media, he’s like that every single day.

“This is not a game, this is him every day. That was great”.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Parker Gabriel on Twitter @ParkerJGabriel.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Denver Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett is not your typical NFL taskmaster.


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