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Horse Tracks: Time for Justin Simmons to shine

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Good morning Broncos Country!

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

After the Denver Broncos released veteran safety T.J. Ward on Saturday, it signaled the beginning of the Justin Simmons era in the Broncos “No Fly Zone” secondary.

The 6’2”, 202lb second-year safety is now the Broncos starting free safety after the release of T.J. Ward. Former starting free safety Darian Stewart will move from free safety to strong safety to replace Ward.

Simmons called earning this starting job is a big opportunity for himself and a nice confidence boost as well.

“It definitely boosted my confidence. I definitely didn’t expect it to be the way it played out as far as how things happened, but this definitely was a goal. Obviously you don’t want to come in and just be a backup you want to come in, contribute, be a starter, and earn those snaps and earn those reps. It’s just a great opportunity.”

Now Simmons did earn this job while T.J. Ward was sidelined with an injury, but he knows his job is likely on the line week in and week out so he knows the pressure is on. However, he feels prepared for this role because of the playing time he got at the end of the season last year and the work he put in during the offseason to get him where he is now.

“This league is pressure performance based so there’s not a week of a game where you’re going in whether you’re a backup, a starter or whatever where it’s not based off of pressure and performance. That just comes with the game. As far as playing with the guys in the back end, that trickled in a little bit last year with those last few games and having a significant amount of playing time due to some injuries. That’s going to kind of roll back into this season and it’s been great. Like I said, the end of last year then we had the off season, then training camp and preseason. Now heading into the regular season, I had all that time to really connect as far as communication goes with those guys, it’s continually getting better and I’m still learning each and every day as I go.”

I am a big fan of this move. It sucks losing Ward as a leader, but I think it improves the Broncos secondary. Stewart can replace or even improve on the play at strong safety while Simmons gives the Broncos a true ball-hawking coverage safety. Something they have lacked consistently for quite some time.

Simmons had 8 total interceptions during his four-year career at Boston College, but 5 of them came his breakout senior year. That’s the sort of player the Broncos are hoping to see this season for them.

Another positive trait about Simmons is his elite athletic ability. He showed this off during the NFL Scouting Combine where he tested top in his group in multiple workouts which gave him the highest SPARQ(an analytic that charts athleticism) rating of every safety in that class.

Simmons tested in the 97th percentile in 60-yard shuttle, 98th percentile in 20-yard shuttle, 97th percentile in the 3-cone drill, 85th percentile in the broad jump, and 92nd percentile in the vertical jump. He also ranked in the 83rd percentile for arm length among safeties in that draft class. Add in his size, 6’2”/202lbs, 40 inch vertical, and has 32 5/8" arms so he has all the athletic traits you look for in a free safety.

This gives the Broncos secondary an element it has lacked for quite awhile. Add in his ball skills and potentially the Broncos secondary may have gotten even better on paper. Of course, it all comes down to on the field play, but I have high hopes for Justin Simmons.

Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib added to my thoughts by calling Simmons a “really smart kid”.

“You see it. You see his production in OTAs. You see his production last year. He’s a smart kid. It’s not like we have to worry about him knowing his assignments or knowing what the other team is doing. He is professional. He is mature. He’s married. He’s going to go home and study like a vet. This should be an easy transition for him.”

That’s comforting to hear from someone like Aqib Talib. He’s smart, mature, studious, and has elite athletic traits? The Broncos may have a budding star in the making here.

Horse Tracks:

Colts GM: Andrew Luck will not play Week 1 vs. Rams - NFL.com
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Ward: Broncos 'unprofessional' with timing of release - NFL.com
Broncos players weren't thrilled to see Denver cut ties with T.J. Ward. The popular Pro Bowl safety wasn't happy about it, either, to say the least.

Odell Beckham (ankle) sits out Giants practice - NFL.com
Odell Beckham sat out practice Monday as the New York Giants began their prep for their season-opening matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.

Le'Veon Bell signs his Steelers franchise tender - NFL.com
Pittsburgh Steelers star running back Le'Veon Bell, who returned to the team facility last week to take his physical, has signed his franchise tender, the team announced on Monday.

J.J. Watt all in on effort to help Houston after Hurricane Harvey - NFL.com
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Bills QB Tyrod Taylor remains in concussion protocol - NFL.com
Six days away from their season-opening clash with the Jets, the Buffalo Bills are still without their starting quarterback. Will Tyrod Taylor will be available Week 1?

Duane Brown: 'I'm definitely playing football this year' - NFL.com
Speaking to reporters Monday, Duane Brown said he plans to play football in 2017, but declined to say how close he might be to rejoining his Texans teammates.

No change: Jaguars vs. Texans will be at NRG Stadium - NFL.com
As scheduled, Sunday's scheduled contest between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans will indeed be played at NRG Stadium, Texans coach Bill O'Brien says.

Sebastian Janikowski and Oakland Raiders at impasse over contract
Sebastian Janikowski and the Raiders are locked in a stalemate, with the team seeking to rework the kicker's contract, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

NFL monitoring Hurricane Irma, may move Buccaneers-Dolphins game
The NFL is tracking Hurricane Irma and entertaining the possibility that the game between the Dolphins and Buccaneers may have to be moved.

Ezekiel Elliott preparing for Week 1 as Dallas Cowboys await appeal ruling
Despite Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension, the Dallas Cowboys are preparing for Elliott to be ready for Week 1 as the team awaits ruling on his appeal.

Brock Osweiler -- No regrets but 'ecstatic' to be with Denver Broncos
After signing with the Broncos, Brock Osweiler said Monday that he was "ecstatic" to be back in Denver but has no regrets about his decision last year to sign elsewhere.

Holdout Aaron Donald absent from Los Angeles Rams practice Monday
Holdout Aaron Donald was not on the field with his Rams teammates for the start of practice Monday, making it seem unlikely that he will be available for Sunday's opener against the Colts.

Jonathan Williams clears waivers – ProFootballTalk
No one wanted Jonathan Williams. Williams, the running back who was waived by the Bills yesterday, cleared waivers today. That makes him an unrestricted free agent. It also means that NFL teams aren't as high on Williams as some people assumed.

Seahawks sign Trevone Boykin to practice squad – ProFootballTalk
The Seahawks brought quarterback Trevone Boykin back to the practice squad. Boykin was beaten out by Austin Davis for the backup job behind Russell Wilson. In 2016, Boykin made the team as an undrafted rookie free agent.

Browns keep churning roster with sixth waiver claim in two days – ProFootballTalk
The Browns have their choice of any players hitting the waiver wire this week and they've put it to use six times over the last two days. Cleveland added five players to their roster on Sunday and picked up another one on Monday. They claimed tackle Zach Banner off of waivers from the Colts.