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The Broncos aren’t in a position to skip practice in favor of field day

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

There’s nothing wrong with having a good time. Everyone, except for perhaps my third-grade teacher, is in favor of fun. This is a universal truth, something that crosses all borders, socio-economic barriers, etc.

But even the most free-wheeling folks would agree that there is a time and place to let loose. Sometimes, it’s appropriate; and sometimes, it’s a bad idea.

What transpired at Dove Valley on Thursday falls into the latter category.

The Broncos had the third and final day of mandatory minicamp scheduled, looking to put a bow on what had been a productive and optimism-inspiring offseason before the team dissipated prior to the start of training camp in mid-July. Instead, Vic Fangio called an audible, letting his team enjoy a “field day” on the grounds of the UC Health Training Center instead of toiling through another practice.

And everyone loved it. Players posted videos on social media of their teammates participating in the home run derby, dunk tank and other activities. The team created video montages that would motivate any retiree to book a cruise on the SS Broncos ASAP. And the reporters who cover the team on a regular basis gobbled up the out-of-the-box storyline.

What’s not to like? It was June 6, the Broncos had completed the vast majority of their offseason practices and five weeks of free time was on the horizon. Why not cut loose?

Sorry to be the curmudgeon, but fun and games are supposed to be reserved for those who deserve them. Vacation is the reward for those who work hard, produce results and earn a few days sitting by the pool sipping daiquiris.

That doesn’t come close to describing what’s transpired the past two seasons in Broncos Country. As hardline as it sounds, a franchise that’s gone 11-21 since 2017 and posted its first back-to-back losing seasons since the early 1970s doesn’t deserve a day filled with watermelon-eating contests, golf ball chipping competitions, basketball shoot-outs and Italian shaved ice.

Instead, another day on the practice field would make more sense. The Broncos are introducing a different coaching staff, working in a new quarterback and trying to transform the losing culture that’s been pervasive since Super Bowl 50. Every minute on the field to implement the new system, especially in the modern era where practice time is limited by the collective bargaining agreement, is invaluable.

But the Broncos new head coach decided to punt on the opportunity to get in another session of work. And he contradicted himself in the process.

On the day Fangio was introduced to Denver as the replacement for Vance Joseph, one mantra was repeatedly uttered by the new head coach, the organization and the players. The easygoing attitude of the Joseph era, when the little things were let to slide, was over. Fangio was going to pay attention to every single detail.

The new head coach even had a catchy slogan for his mindset. “Death by inches” was his way of explaining how minor mistakes, even in practice, could compound and turn a victory into a loss on Sundays.

Everyone ate this narrative up, especially on the heels of a coaching staff that seemed to let the players do whatever they wanted. Accountability was a breath of fresh air at Dove Valley, something that could theoretically turn 6-10 into 10-6.

During the first few phases of the offseason, Fangio lived up to this approach. Practices during OTAs and minicamp were tightly controlled, with every detail covered and no stone unturned. It was a a new way of doing business, something that seemed to be embraced by every player on the roster.

Then, field day happened at Dove Valley. And in the process, the entire philosophy went up in smoke.

A team that is worried about making sure every detail is covered doesn’t blow off one-third of its minicamp practices in favor of hijinks. As much as that sounds like a killjoy, it’s the reality.

What were the Patriots doing yesterday? The defending Super Bowl champions were maximizing their on-field time and implanting their system for the 2019 season.

New England is in contention year after year for one main reason – they’re the most-prepared franchise in the NFL. So it would make sense to pattern offseason activities off of what the most-successful team in the 2000s does on a regular basis.

That’s why Thursday’s field day was so off-putting. If a perennial winner was acting like that, it would appear a bit cocky; but it’d be hard to criticize them taking a moment to blow off a little steam. But when a franchise that has turned into an also-ran across the past three seasons decides to goof around instead of work, it’s difficult to justify; that wouldn’t fly in any other line of work.

Imagine if the poor-performing sales department decided to bail on a Thursday afternoon of cold calls, heading to the park for a game of Frisbee golf instead of grinding to hit budget for the first time in three years. That wouldn’t go over very well; even if the company produced a fun, feel-good video to package the outing as a grand ol’ time.

After Super Bowl 50, it was impossible to be critical of Von Miller during his victory tour. If the MVP of the biggest game wanted to appear on every TV show in America, that was his right; that was the fruit of his labor.

Following the greatest offensive season in NFL history, no one was going to be critical of Peyton Manning for appearing in seemingly every commercial that aired on network television. If the greatest quarterback in NFL history wanted to cash in on his success, no one was going to begrudge his efforts; that’s what comes with success.

But if the guy in charge of RTD’s A-train decided to take a beach vacation after the line’s opening was delayed by months and the long-term prognosis for it being operational was in doubt, a few eyebrows might be raised. Ineptitude doesn’t deserve a reward, which is why this would ruffle feathers in every corner.

That’s the case with the 2019 Broncos. As much as everyone loves the players, and even though fans are quickly falling in love with the blunt-honesty of Fangio, it’s an unproven group that has earned zero benefit of the doubt.

So instead of goofing around on a practice day, they’d have been better served taking a lunch-bucket approach to their jobs. Right now, the Broncos are a franchise that needs people to show up early, work late, skip breaks and plow through the summer doldrums.

Field day is fun, there’s no doubt. But everything has it’s time and place.

If the Broncos are 6-10 again in 2019, how many people will find the image of general manager John Elway getting soaked in the dunk tank cute? If Fangio flops in his first head coaching opportunity, how will those images of him chipping golf balls at Dove Valley look to fans? If young players look as confused and unprepared as they have the past two seasons, will everyone still find videos of them goofing around in June endearing?

Call it old-school, but there’s a time for work and a time for play. Thursday was a scheduled workday for the Broncos; they dropped the ball by not treating it as such.