DENVER -- Having worked through and relished his rookie season, Dalton Risner senses — in a maturity that belies his years — what must come next for the Broncos.
They remain jazzed about an offensive makeover worthy of Jonathan and Drew Scott's approval. They boast confidence because of a talented second-year quarterback in Drew Lock. But, after four years without reaching the postseason, after three years of losing records, it comes down to this.
"We have to go out and prove it," Risner said Thursday.
Talk is good. Words are nice. They construct images, and paint pictures. When it comes to the players, however, there's no way to articulate change without dramatically altering the record.
The Broncos finished 7-9 last season. With an additional playoff berth in each conference this year, anything less than a postseason berth would be a massive disappointment. Risner is ready to help move bodies, create paths and provide guidance out of the darkness.
"John Elway and coach (Vic) Fangio went and got weapons for us. In the offensive line, we are the down and dirty group. We want to do our part," Risner said. "We went 7-9 last year. We didn't do what the Denver Broncos are supposed to do. We didn't uphold that legacy of what we are about. We can make offseason additions, we can add draft additions, and free agent additions, but that doesn't mean anything until we work together as a team and we go play the Titans on Monday night."
A former star at Wiggins High School and Kansas State, Risner established himself as a core player last season, earning all-rookie honors. However, he made clear to Denver7 that his goal is to reach Pro Bowl and earn All-Pro status. Do that — and with his ankle healthy this year that will help — and the Broncos' chances of returning to relevancy will increase dramatically.
"Last year I wanted to earn my respect on the team. And I accomplished that, and I did start all season. But man, I watch my film from last year and, to be honest, I shake my head. I have so many ways to improve. I want to be more a leader," Risner said. "I don't want to go 2-14 and make the Pro Bowl or be All-Pro. I want to be able to win 12 or 14 games as a team. That's the goal."
Elway remains cautiously optimistic about the offense, but tempered expectations because there will be no preseason games. With the NFL turned upside down this offseason, Lock lost OTAs. He organized practices on his own to help microwave his development.
The challenge is real. The Broncos need a boost after ranking 28th in points (17.6) and in passing (194.7 yards per game), 20th in rushing (103.9) and 30th in third-down conversions last season. The onus is on new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to make the pieces fit. Under Lock, the Broncos averaged 21 points over the final five games, but they seek more deep strikes.
Lock said earlier this offseason that he "embraces the pressure."
"I have seen more from Drew as a leader," added Risner, believing the hype around the former star is justified.
Thursday, Risner's energy was tangible. He loves football — and yes, he will take some reps at tackle to be ready in case there's an injury during the game — loves the Broncos, but, more than anything, he loves winning. And until that is accomplished, the rest rings hollow.
"I am excited about the guys we have brought in," Risner said. "It's time to be about it."