Nathaniel Hackett will be calling plays himself as new coach of the Denver Broncos, but which quarterback he'll be imparting them to remains to be seen.
Hackett is the first to fill one of nine NFL head coaching vacancies, and at his introductory news conference Friday, he deferred questions about personnel, and the quarterback position in particular.
"I think right now, you know, just getting here on this day, I think there are so many things we're going to talk about. I think we've discussed all kinds of different things and I think now that this whole thing is official, I'm so excited to go sit down and go through it all, from the entire staff (to) everything," Hackett said. "So those, the quarterback position, all that stuff, we're going to sit down, George (Paton) is a great guy to talk to and I imagine we will talk for a long time about everything."
Asked directly if Hackett's hiring had anything to do with his strong relationship with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, general manager George Paton minced no words.
"Absolutely not," Paton said.
Hackett did share his intentions for play-calling, however, citing his most recent experience with Green Bay as a proxy for how to effectively juggle that responsibility with being the head coach.
"Yes, I will be calling the plays," Hackett said. "Matt LaFleur came in as a first-time head coach and I was able to watch him maneuver that, from being both a head football coach and calling plays. I think it's about being able to budget your time, understanding what you need to get done, so you have the ability to be great on game day. In the end, that's the most important thing. I think it's just been about being able to budget all my time, being efficient -- that's something I pride myself in, is not wasting a lot of time -- making sure everybody is prepared and ready, and to be able to do that is having that great staff. You have that great staff and you're capable of doing anything. I'm very excited to get back to doing that."
As for his offensive system, Hackett referenced former Broncos star QB John Elway in describing how he'd like to beat defenses with a team that has struggled to score in recent years.
"I think the starting point is outside zone. Outside zone on offense is what you want to do and you want to base that off of play-pass," he said. "You want to make the defense cover the entire field, and you want to take shots down the field. I mean, let's all face it -- that's what the people in the stands love -- they love those bombs down the field. I remember watching John Elway throw the ball downfield to (Ed) McCaffrey on all those boot fakes. I mean, that was unbelievable. This is really where this system kind of evolved from and was created. So you're always looking for that. Then, mixing in the West Coast principle of the dropback game. That's kind of a quick summary."
It is Hackett's first NFL head coaching job; the Broncos announced his hiring as the franchise's 18th head coach on Thursday. He replaces Vic Fangio, who was dismissed by the Broncos after three seasons with a record of 19-30, and no playoff appearances. Hackett began his NFL coaching career as the Buffalo Bills' offensive coordinator in 2013, later serving in the same role with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Green Bay Packers.
"Nathaniel has a unique ability to connect with everyone he touches," Paton said. "He has a proven track record of developing younger players, of working with quarterbacks, and helping great players become even better. But it was his vision in all three phases of our football team that really separated himself with the rest of the group."
As for Rodgers, he remains under contract with the Packers for one more season. However, his strong relationship with Hackett already has fueled speculation that Rodgers might consider trying to force a trade to the Broncos to reunite with the coordinator who helped him win the NFL MVP Award in 2020 (and presumably 2021). Hackett has worked with Rodgers as the Packers' OC for the past three seasons.
"Coaching a man like that, the one thing I learned is, you better have an answer for every question because he's going to ask every single question about every single thing that you're going to do," Hackett said of Rodgers. "So I think that was something that was very valuable for me, when you're dealing with a guy that is that intelligent, is that if you want to do something, you're not going to just be able to put that up there and say, hey, you're doing this, unless it's already something he might have done in the past. But if it's something new, you got to be sure to be able to have a great answer. I think it's just allowed me to understand, communicate and talking with everybody, and knowing that you always have to have an answer why."
The quarterback position is one of the few question marks on the Broncos roster, and if the Rodgers speculation is just folly, the Broncos figure to be highly interested in taking a quarterback in the NFL draft, now just three months away. Veteran Teddy Bridgewater sustained two concussions last season, while backup Drew Lock was largely ineffective in limited action. Denver had five scouts -- at least three more than any other club in attendance -- including Paton, at a November matchup between two of the top draft-eligible quarterback prospects: Ole Miss' Matt Corral and Liberty's Malik Willis.