Justin Simmons had an impressive rookie seasons under then defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, which has us all looking at the young safety with high hopes heading into 2017. It never really materialized as the sugar new defensive coordinator Joe Woods sprinkled on the defense seemed to put Simmons in poor position to succeed.
By the end of the Vance Joseph era it had leaked out that the coaching staff had put ‘a little too much on’ Simmons last season. He was used at multiple positions and suffered in his development for it.
Under new head coach Vic Fangio, things look to be getting back on track for the young safety. Simmons is excited about the potential he has to excel in his system.
“I was actually doing an interview a couple of days ago,” Simmons said. “I was just talking about how excited I was to be a part of Vic’s defense. Obviously, looking at the production that he’s had on the safety side of it has been huge. I can remember last year watching some of the Bears film and seeing those guys run around—Eddie Jackson and [Adrian] Amos making plays. I had the same feeling to when I was coming out of the draft process and watching Denver play in the Super Bowl. That looks like a defense that I want to be a part of. I was just super excited to hear that we picked him up and now I have a chance to put my footprint on the defense.”
Simmons, 25, has made some pretty big plays in his career. Last season, he played a little at cornerback, and both safety positions. He has a leg up on finding a role in the Fangio system.
One thing he revealed was how nuanced Fangio and his staff are. It goes beyond scheme or play calls. The coaching staff wants players to have great chemistry. The focus is as much of reaching each other as it is the opposing offense. That’s the kind of communication that Fangio looks for from players in the secondary.
“I think the biggest part about the defense is that it is all communication based,” Simmons said. “I think a lot of defenses are like that, but the vibe of this one is different. It’s about trusting guys and seeing plays develop. Guys not mentally being on the same page, but physically. Like reading it how each other’s bodies would read it, as weird as that sounds. It’s just being in each other’s shoes and feeling out the plays. It’s a great concept and I’ve loved every second of getting to dive into it. We haven’t even scratched the surface yet in OTAs. I’m excited to keep learning.”
The secondary looks quite a bit different in 2019. The Denver Broncos signed cornerback Bryce Callahan and cornerback/safety Kareem Jackson in free agency. For Simmons, it has been Jackson who has made the biggest impact in OTAs so far. He compared him to Chris Harris Jr. as far as knowledge of the game and work ethic.
When pressed on Jackson’s impact so far, Simmons noted that he brings quite a bit to the meeting rooms and on the practice field.
“A bunch of different things,” Simmons said of Jackson. “The biggest that he brings is just his knowledge of the game. I think he’s been around football so much and he sees things probably a little bit faster than most guys will being that he plays nickel and corner and closer to the line of scrimmage so that he can see route combinations develop before they even happen. Sometimes he’s jumping plays before the route even develops. On film you’re looking at it, and you’re like what the heck is he doing, but he’s at the right spot at the right time. I’m excited.”
The back end of the defense was a bit of a weakness last season, which is shocking considering the No Fly Zone mantra of the last half decade. However, at safety, the Broncos are looking a bit strong again. Despite losing Darian Stewart, the addition of Kareem Jackson and the emergence of Will Parks last season and Simmons still being an guy with tons of range on the field, the safety group looks like it could be a huge strength in 2019. Pairing those three with Harris and Callahan should make the Broncos secondary elite again.
It will come down to how well those three mesh on the communication side of things described by Simmons this week and how well they can read the cornerbacks in front of them on the defense. Already it feels like this is going to work out well for Denver early on.