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After an offseason of negotiations, Justin Simmons focused on playing football 'at a higher level'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —With an offseason of contract negotiations behind him, Justin Simmons is ready to turn his attention solely to football.

"My focus right now is just bringing this team together as close as we can with the new additions that we've got and really focus on winning football games," Simmons said Thursday.

Simmons, who will play the season on the one-year franchise tag, acknowledged that the time will come to again talk about a long-term extension. He would prefer, though, to currently talk solely about football.

"I think there's always a time and place to be able to talk about extension," Simmons said. "… I just feel like moving forward, right now what's best is to talk about the team. I don't want to be an individual that's just focusing on what I want. … I just really want to focus on team ball and winning games."

President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway said last week the team still hopes to sign Simmons to a long-term deal, and Simmons did confirm Thursday that he hopes to remain in Denver.

"Hearing just the reiteration of, 'He's the type of guy we want here' for the things I've done on and off the field here for Denver, that still stands on my end too," Simmons said of Elway's comments. "I'd love to be able to be here and continue to keep growing and do the things that I've been doing."

And while the next set of negotiations aremonths away, Simmons said Thursday he's optimistic about what the immediate future holds.

"I've always been a guy my whole career that's just been confident in myself and what I can do," Simmons said. "With some additions that we've had, the type of defense that I know that we can be, I'm just excited for what's [ahead] moving forward. Everything is always going to work itself out."

In his second season in Vic Fangio's defense, Simmons could put together a season that's even better than his second-team All-Pro 2019 campaign. While playing every defensive snap for the second consecutive season, Simmons intercepted four passes and added a career-high 15 passes defensed.

Raising that standard will serve as Simmons' motivation as the Broncos approach their Sept. 14 season opener.

"My whole career, I've always felt like in some way, shape or form, I've always been underrated. I've always just used that as a chip on my shoulder," Simmons said. "… For me, [this year that] chip on my shoulder is proving, 'Hey, Year 2, not only will I do it again, but [I'll] do it at a higher level.' [It's about] making sure that I'm not only doing [it] at a higher level for myself, but I'm going to be bringing my teammates along with me — not necessarily saying, like, elevating them, but making sure I'm setting guys up to make the plays that need to be made from the safety position, putting guys in the right spots, taking the next step as a leader on the defensive side of the football.

"That's the biggest chip on my shoulder, making sure that this may be a great defense for both sides. I make it work, it works for me. But it's bigger than that. How I can bring my teammates alongside with me? How can I set guys up to be successful and make more plays on their side of the ball too?" 

Simmons suggested taking that next step will be based on his understanding of the defense and how it applies to alignments and assignments.

"There's a lot of times I put myself in great position to make a lot of plays, but there's also a lot of things that I've missed," Simmons said. "You may not see it on the surface of things, but if I miss something, it causes a linebacker to maybe be a little bit misaligned. It causes a gap to be open when it shouldn't be. It may cause a misunderstanding between the communication between myself and a corner. I think there's no doubt about it, we've seen we'll be great defensively and then there [will] be that one big play that we would see consistently throughout … the tail end of the season. Those are the types of things that I'm talking about from a leadership perspective. No pointing the fingers, but the communication starts with the secondary and with the safeties."

With his entire focus on football, Simmons could be poised for both an increased level of leadership and a higher caliber of play. For the Broncos' defense, that could lead to quite a jump in Year 2 of Vic Fangio's scheme.

"There was a lot of success — obviously a lot of things to work on — but a lot of growth," Simmons said. "And so with Year 2 coming up, with all the pieces that we have, I feel like we could be something really special.

"The point was made, we've got guys playing in their primes right now, younger guys stepping up and then we've got vets from other teams that may feel this way or the other about how they may have been treated at their spots coming in hungry. You mix all those guys together and it's going to be something special that I'm looking forward to."

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