Keeler: Can Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett win without Aaron Rodgers? Yeah. Can he win a brutal AFC West? “I wouldn’t count him out.”

Keeler: Can Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett win without Aaron Rodgers? Yeah. Can he win a brutal AFC West? “I wouldn’t count him out.”
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When the golfing gods gave Nathaniel Hackett a wicked slice, Hackett gave it right back.

“So he’ll line up to the left. Like he’s going to hit it right into the houses on the left,” Eric Price recalled with a chuckle. “And he’ll swing as hard as he can, and it’ll go right down the middle of the fairway. It’s incredible.”

Price worked as an offensive research assistant under Hackett, the Broncos’ new coach, in Jacksonville, and under Nate’s father, Paul, when the elder Hackett was with the New York Jets. He’s rarely seen anybody in the coaching fraternity adjust — to game situations, to personnel, to the weather, to crummy swings, whatever — the way that Nathaniel Hackett adjusts.

“That could be the reason why (the Broncos) hired him, is because he’s good at that,” Price said. “He can develop a kid that may not be the greatest quarterback, but he can make them productive as far as wins and losses.

“Nate is fine if (you) don’t score 100 points, if you just score one more point than the other team. He’s not selfish. He just wants to win. I think he’ll do that. He’ll find a way to make that happen. If they get a great quarterback, he might score 40 points a game.”

He might have to. But can Hackett hack it here without Aaron Rodgers, his buddy in Green Bay? Can he make it big? Can he change the narrative without a star riding shotgun?

“Everyone needs that quarterback, that’s the deal,” Price said. “It’s easier said than done, but you never know. There’s some random dude that all of a sudden starts to play great. We had (Gardner) Minshew Mania for a little bit (in Jacksonville). It was crazy.”

Broncos Country has had it up to here with random dudes at quarterback, thanks all the same. In the AFC West, random dudes go 6-11. Random dudes put their coaches out of work.

“You’ve got to find a quarterback,” former NFL tight end Anthony Becht, another old Hackett pal, told me Saturday. “You’ve got to find offensive linemen … those things are important to having success, whoever the quarterback is, whether they’re drafting (one) or they have to sign (one).”

Over Becht’s 11 seasons in the NFL, Hackett was one of the sharpest cats he ever came across. The pair last hooked up professionally with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2007, where Hackett was an offensive quality control coach and general gopher for then-Bucs coach Jon Gruden.

“The biggest thing with him is communication,” Becht, who works as an analyst these days, said of the Broncos’ new coach. “And that’s going to be key.

“That’s not just communicating, just talking to someone. I think in this day and age, in this league, you have to get to know some of these players, but still be able to demand accountability … And if you can find that middle ground, that’s when guys will run through walls for you.”

Hackett’s biggest project in Jacksonville, quarterback Blake Bortles, wouldn’t run through a wall for Hackett when the two worked together. Bortles would run through two. Or three. No questions asked.

“I think it was built on his relationship with Blake and having his back and sticking up for him,” Price stressed. “A lot of people (in the NFL) won’t stick up for their guys. With a lot of guys, it’s ‘See you, dude.’

“And Nate is the kind of guy where, if he believes in you, he’ll have your back. And he’ll stand up for you, regardless, in good times and bad times. He proved that with Blake, and I think that’s why it worked in 2017. He actually stood for up for him until the day he left, basically.”

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