ENGLEWOOD – Russell Wilson is starting to look like his old self again.
Make that his younger self, as in the swaggering quarterback who helped the Seattle Seahawks win their only Super Bowl title a decade ago.
Wilson is throwing the ball with authority, accuracy and touch as he embarks on a comeback from the worst season of his career.
It's exactly what coach Sean Payton wanted to see when he sent Wilson and the rest of the starters out for a fourth drive in Denver's preseason opener at Arizona last week.
Following three fruitless drives – a three-and-out and two missed field goals – in which Wilson had many Broncos fans mumbling, “Here we go again,” Wilson went 3 of 4 with a drop for 44 yards and a touchdown in that final series.
He was slated to start again Saturday night against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, when the Broncos starters were expected to play until halftime.
Wilson got off to a hum-drum start when training camp opened and it didn't help that he lost wide receiver Tim Patrick to another season-ending injury right away and wide receiver KJ Hamler went on the shelf with a heart condition the same day.
After turning up his play significantly, Wilson got off to a slow start against the Cardinals before capping his night with a 21-yard touchdown strike to Jerry Jeudy on fourth down, allowing the Broncos' front-line starters to finish their night on a high note.
Wilson carried over those good vibes in practice this week, stringing together three spectacular days that had fans hopeful last year was an aberration for the passer who cost the Broncos a bevy of draft picks and players.
“His movement skills have been impressive,” Payton said. “His off-schedule plays – every practice, you see an example of one or two. It really forces the receivers to (dial in). If you are not open in the initial route progression and the pocket moves one way, you have to move with it.
“His location has been really good. I think the last week and a-half or two weeks have been really impressive.”
Wilson seems to be playing with confidence once again.
“My confidence doesn’t waver much,’’ Wilson said. “But I think every day you learn a little bit more. You learn a little bit more about who we are, what we’re trying to do as a team. It’s all coming together. The picture’s all coming together.
“It takes time to paint a beautiful picture sometimes, and we’re doing that, all as one.’’
To help salvage Wilson's career – and their nearly quarter-billion dollar investment – the Broncos traded for Payton and his run-first offensive philosophies, beefed up their offensive line with the free agent additions of Ben Powers and Mike McGlinchey and signed running back Samage Perine to pair with Javonte Williams, who's embarking on a comeback from a knee injury.
Williams will make his 2023 debut against the 49ers.
“I’m going to be smart. He’s not going to get 20 plays,” Payton said. “In a perfect game, I’d like to see him get three or four carries, maybe a pass, and just get him going.”