Justin Simmons has the chance to become a special player.
The second-year free safety for the Denver Broncos is one of the most active players in the community. Now he gets the chance to make a name for himself on the field with the release of T.J. Ward.
Once the outrage tempers and people look at what Denver has in Simmons, they’ll see the Broncos defense is now on the path to get even better this season. Jeff Essary did a great analysis and film study on how the unit will be just fine without Ward.
Adam Malnati and I took it one step further on the latest Mile High Report Radio Podcast. We both think the defense is better now than it was last season. Simmons is in his natural position at free safety and is better in pass defense than Darian Stewart was, who now shifts to his more natural position of strong safety. The fact Simmons is strong in coverage and has a nose for the ball makes the pass coverage better (as hard as that is to fathom). He’s also a strong tackler who isn’t afraid to smack ball carriers in the run game. That makes the run defense better since Stewart is free to make his presence felt in a physical manner and won’t be relied upon so much in coverage.
That gives you a basis for why John Elway and the Broncos made this decision, but there’s more to it. Will Parks and Jamal Carter also will help the defense get even better. For all the craze over Klye Sloter, Carter was even better this preseason. He was all over the field, in multiple positions and consistently made plays. Carter is now the 13th rookie free agent in the last 14 years to make Denver’s 53-man roster for the regular-season opener.
Yet perhaps the biggest factor Simmons has in his favor is how smart he is. When you listen to him talk and watch him play, he doesn’t look like a second-year safety. That’s a tremendous tool for a young guy. Some will have the binoculars handy to scrutinize every play Simmons makes to say, “Whelp, we gave Ward up for that?” For those still on the fence, Aqib Talib even said “nobody flyin” in the No Fly Zone.
There are those who say this was just preseason and it’s a different beast when the games count. True, but Simmons has remained consistent since organized team activities. He’s done it in practice and games. The defense hasn’t missed a beat since Ward has been out early in camp with a hamstring injury. In fact, Simmons brings another element with his penchant for highlight reel interceptions.
In the middle of June, I wrote a story that said Simmons was on the verge of getting his wings in the No Fly Zone. Almost all of us had no clue it would happen so soon. But the reason it happened isn’t because of Ward, it’s because of Simmons.
In that story, a MHR commenter compared Simmons to Broncos legend Dennis Smith. I didn’t even think of that, but it makes total sense. I posed that to the guy who played with Smith and would know a thing or two about safeties, Steve Atwater. Even he sees it — while he’s smiling of course.
No doubt fans were outraged at the release of Ward. Add to it the signing of Brock Osweiler, the trade of Ty Sambrailo to the Atlanta Falcons for a fifth-round pick, and we had a wild weekend. Thank goodness I was riding a train through the Royal Gorge when all of it went down.
Once the emotion cools, fans should realize what the Broncos have in Simmons. A young man who has the chance to become a special, special player and in the process make the No Fly Zone and Denver’s defense even better.