Sean Payton is a unique head coach, and certainly one of the best in NFL history. We're seeing his brilliance on full display over the course of the last six weeks as the Denver Broncos have gone 5-0 with their bye week mixed in and now find themselves on the brink of being one of the seven playoff teams in the AFC after starting the year a dismal 1-5. Part of the reason Sean Payton is such a brilliant head coach is his attention to detail, and the unique way he prepares for teams accordingly.
No detail is left out, not even the appearance of the practice field. Payton has noted this a couple of times now (including when the Broncos played Buffalo) but with Denver starting a three-game road trip this weekend against the Houston Texans, he's transformed the practice field to include the Houston Texans' logo at midfield.
"We’re playing in Houston. The game’s been moved up, so it’s 12 noon start time. We’re going to be practicing around that time during the whole week. We practice at 12 noon. In other words, here’s the forecast. We have an indoor environment. Here’s the surface. I’ll put the Houston logo heads on the field."- Sean Payton (via Broncos PR)
Part of the reason for doing this is so that players have a feel for where they are at on the field at every point in the game. It's more than just a visualization, it's experiencing situations in practice that you will experience in the actual game. And Payton has taken it a step further by having the team practice at the same time as the game's actual start time, which is another level of immersive preparation.
I did some digging and reached out to Ross Jackson, who has covered the New Orleans Saints for a long time, and he said that this is something Payton used to do when he was with the Saints as well. And I think this is a great way to go next-level in your preparation for an opponent. A lot of times, you will hear about coaches piping in crowd noise. You certainly will have "scout team" players out there imitating star players from other teams, often wearing a practice jersey with the number of a key player on it.
This is just another level to go to in terms of your preparation and visualization of an opponent. The Broncos will know what certain situations look like at certain parts of the field, and the fact that Sean Payton goes to these lengths is impressive. It's also another sign that the ownership group has his back in terms of this being a pretty substantial overhaul of the practice field requiring huge effort from the grounds crew.
As long as I've covered the Denver Broncos, I've never known this to be a thing. I have actually never heard of other coaches around the league doing this, either, though I'm not sure it's totally unique to Sean Payton.
"It’s funny. I’ve done that for years. It was always to acclimate our players. We used to do it all the time in New Orleans. Our equipment guys had it down pat. It’s all computer generated. If I could have made it 48 degrees with a 10 mile an hour wind, I would’ve done that, too. It is strictly just getting in—we’re going on the road. We’ve done that forever. In New Orleans, I don’t think I’ve ever asked by [media]—not once. You guys are on top of it. It’s nothing to do with the opponent, it’s more of us just getting in the mindset. This is the logo, and we’re on the field trying to simulate. We started doing that. When you start building something, everyone wants to help. The field guys do a great job here. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey P.K. (Assistant to the Head Coach Paul Kelly), see if they can get two.’ Next morning, they’re perfect. A lot of it has to do with just getting prepared to play on the road. You’ll see it the rest of the time I’m here, and any time we’re playing an away game. Then we don’t have to answer any more questions. It’ll just be the logo."- Sean Payton (before Buffalo game)
As the Denver Broncos look to win their sixth straight game, you certainly can't fault them for lack of preparation. We've seen attention to detail with this team unlike any team since Peyton Manning was running the show.
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