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Amid focus on energized offense, Justin Simmons, Broncos defense looking to retain defensive strength


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It's not just the offense that's caught up in the buzz that Russell Wilson's arrival in Denver has brought.

Just as much as wide receiver Courtland Sutton feels the invigorated vibe, so too does safety Justin Simmons. And while it feels like a talented team has found the missing piece that could launch it to playoff contention, Simmons says the defense's mindset has not changed from putting the burden on its own shoulders.

"Just how I'm wired, I just don't like making excuses either way," Simmons said Tuesday. "We know that in a lot of cases and a lot of scenarios that it's a quarterback-driven league, but from a defensive perspective, I don't like having that. For me defensively and a lot of guys on our defense — most guys — every game we went into last year [and] years prior was, 'We can win this game and defense wins championships.'

"I mean, that's still the standard for us moving forward. We want to compete and hold up that Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year. It's no doubt going to come down to how we play on the defensive side of the ball, and that's going to be the attitude [and] mentality all year."

The main change for Simmons and that side of the ball will come on the sideline, as Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero takes control in 2022.

To get an early understanding of what that transition could entail, Simmons spoke with a source with close knowledge of the situation: former Boston College teammate John Johnson III, who played for Evero for four seasons. Evero was the Rams' safeties coach during Johnson's tenure in Los Angeles.

"I know John is a really good student of the game, and I know he really liked working with him, so John's a great soundboard for me," Simmons said. "I go up to him and I'm asking him questions left and right — how to play this and how to play that; how it worked; how it operated; how it flowed; what was the first year like, transition-wise; this that and the other. It's been great just being able to have someone like that. And it means a little bit more, too, because I played with John in college and I have a lot of respect for John. I feel like he's underrated, one of the best in the league at what he does. So it's been great getting some info from him."

While some change is inevitable, Simmons said the essentials of how to play the game will remain; it's just the communication that will require adjustments.

Take an inside look at the Broncos' offseason workout program, as the team began its weight-room strength and conditioning work in mid-April.

"I think the biggest thing is just going to be verbiage," Simmons said. "I think everyone has different ideas of how they want to call things and little intricacies of every defense. I've said it before, but, like, Cover 4 is Cover 4. But the way that you want to run it is just different, going from one coach to another. We're just now getting into those little intricacies, but from my understanding, I think there's going to be a lot of turnover — I mean a lot of things are going to be the same, from the defenses that we've been a part of in years prior."

Communication has been foundational to Simmons' play and the defense's success in the secondary, and even entering his seventh season, he's keeping the same focus.

"I'm just a really firm believer in communication," Simmons said. "That's just my number one goal every single year. I never think you can master that. … I'm a firm believer because I remember even last year talking about, 'Hey, communication is important, right?' Then the first couple games of the season, there was big plays left and right in the secondary. And a lot of that had to do with communication, especially on my end. I'm not just up here and preaching, saying communication just to make it easy or sound cute. I'm a firm believer in that. [There's] a couple new guys in the secondary with K'Waun [Williams], just still trying to figure out how we're going to flow and ebb as a secondary and all that stuff in a new scheme is going to be really important."

With veteran safety Kareem Jackson returning, Simmons will have a more than capable teammate alongside him to translate new defensive calls to help players make the transition, but the defense also has several new — and exciting — faces to bring into the fold. While Wilson was the Broncos' premier addition during the offseason, much of the team's free-agency focus was on defensive signings like outside linebacker Randy Gregory and defensive lineman D.J. Jones.

"I'm really excited," Simmons said. "I love all the guys. … I've actually sat down and watched them play. And I've really been big fans of how they play the game. And so it's exciting for me because I get to play with those guys. Obviously I'm going to build a really good relationship with K'Waun just because there's so much flow that goes on with the safeties and the nickel position, but I'm just excited, man. It's going to be a great season. And it'll be great competition. To get a chance to practice against Russ every day is going to be fun."

If the defense matches the expectations Simmons and the unit have for itself, pretty soon, it'll generate a buzz of its own.

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