Good morning, Broncos Country!
NFL.com and Pro Football Focus have been doling out their “top” accolades - mostly placing top Broncos’ players too low, but whatevs - and, of course, the No Fly Zone has been racking them up.
- Aqib Talib - who had three key interceptions, amassed 43 tackles, defended 12 passes and allowed zero (ZERO!!) touchdowns in coverage - came in as NFL.com’s 37th best player in the league and PFF’s 46th.
- Chris Harris, Jr. - who was PFF’s top-rated cornerback and only allowed ONE touchdown in coverage - hit the Top 50 list at a much more respectable No. 14.
- And then both Harris Jr. and Talib combined to allow just 750 receiving yards against them in all of 2016 (for reference, there were 11 individual cornerbacks in the league who allowed that many yards).
In spite of these mind-blowing stats for our secondary, second-year safety Justin Simmons believes this No Fly Zone can still get better in 2017.
How much better, you ask?
A LOT. A WHOLE LOT.
“And that’s scary for other teams because we know that we can be a lot better,” said Simmons, who played 13 games as a rookie safety, starting in two of those. “We executed at a high level last year, but there was still a lot of mistakes that we left out on the field. We’re going back and looking at the film now.”
As the NFL’s No. 1 pass defense again last year, the Broncos D is looking for a repeat in that department but with a significant improvement in stopping the running game.
More specifically, though, the secondary is looking to improve its zone- and man-coverage to the finest detail.
And that begins with the young guys.
“Obviously, being the No. 1 pass defense, you could settle with that,” Simmons said. “With us, we know that we can be better in both man-coverage and zone-coverage. ...Just for myself, I know that I can improve in both.”
Simmons added that he likes to particularly study the second Kansas City game to find places to improve his coverage of an extremely elusive Travis Kelce.
“I go back and look at that and think, ‘how can I improve on this?” Simmons said of his coverage of Kelce. “How can I find ways to improve my game in man-coverage, whether I know where my help is and where my help is not.”
Something Simmons picked up from a veteran player last year really stuck with him - in college you play football, in the pros you learn football.
“Here, I’m actually learning offenses. I’m learning tendencies. I’m learning offensive coordinators likes and dislikes when they’re at a certain yard line on the field - if they’re at the plus or the minus. If it’s second-and-10 or second-and-seven.
It’s things like that that (veteran players) all know which makes them so successful on the field instead of just going out there and playing the coverage that’s called. That’s why they’re so successful because of their study of the game.
For myself, that’s the level of competitiveness that I want to be at. I want to be at that level. I want to make sure that while T.J or Stew or whoever may be out, that when I’m in there or when Will is in there, they’re not missing a beat with us being in there with them.”
Simmons and fellow second-year safety Will Parks call themselves “Baby No Fly” because they haven’t quite earned their official No Fly Zone wings.
“Looking at what I know now compared to the middle of the season last year, there are so many things that I just missed because I was trying to, for lack of better words, survive throughout that time,” Simmons admitted. “I was just trying to make sure that I was just at the right place at the right time instead of stepping up and making plays and really executing what was being called.”
But now with a year of experience and another offseason to pick the brains of Harris Jr., Talib, Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward for the finer points of coverage, Simmons expects big things from himself and the entire secondary.
And the entire secondary expects big things from their two second-year guys.
“When we do get in [the game], with it being our second year, we should be able to execute at the same level efficiency that Stew and T.J. are executing at,” Simmons said, adding that that expectation is common among all the veterans of their younger counterparts. “I know Aqib, Chris and Roby, even Wolfe, all the veterans on the defense expect and demand that out of us.”
Justin Simmons reiterates how he loves playing the "rangy, roaming safety" ... that's allowed him to get frequent INTs during OTAs.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) June 8, 2017
New defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson also has some big demands, which Simmons says is showing up in practice with all the ball-hawking by the defense.
“If you ever watch a practice, guys are sprinting to the football, whether it’s incomplete, a fumble or an interception,” he said. “Guys are going crazy to get to the football because that’s what we preach every day in the room. I would like to think that getting the football is a little bit innate.”
Ironically, the guy who they’re usually getting that ball from - the quarterback - is also the safeties’ third line of advice on how to play their game better.
“We do that very often. That’s key,” Simmons says, adding that it’s a symbiotic relationship since quarterbacks learn a lot from the exchange too. “As a quarterback, for them, the story is the safeties for the most part, whether they’re tilting one way or not. That pretty much gives them their pre-read before the play actually happens.”
Simmons and Parks are not shy about asking Paxton Lynch or Trevor Siemian what they were thinking on a particular play.
“We’ll ask, ‘On this particular play, we saw you look front side. Was there a reason why? Was there something that I did to make you check the call or anything like that?’” Simmons said. “Just to get inside the minds of the quarterback, yeah, definitely.”
And it’s all in an effort to achieve one thing:
“We are here to help the team get to another postseason, get to another Super Bowl and bring a ring back to Denver.”
Horse Tracks - docllv’s pick of the day
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Which team will have a better secondary than the Broncos’ No Fly Zone in 2017?
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