ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — With Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson in the defensive backfield, the Broncos' safety group stacks up against the league's best.
On Day 7 of training camp, Denver's duo proved it.
Simmons, a 2019 second-team All-Pro, and Jackson, a 2019 Pro Bowl alternate, were all over the field Friday as the Broncos' defense flexed its muscles for most of a two-hour practice.
Simmons, who set career marks in nearly every statistical category in 2019, picked off quarterback Drew Lock during a 7-on-7 period, provided near-perfect coverage on a third-down throw from Lock to Tim Patrick and later broke up a pass for Albert Okwuegbunam.
Jackson, meanwhile, was a force against the run. He put a big hit on Phillip Lindsay during an 11-on-11 drill, and he added a tackle for loss in live short-yardage action. During a live goal-line period, Jackson and Alexander Johnson converged in the backfield to stop a run play.
He also sniffed out a screen pass to Lindsay during an 11-on-11 play early in practice.
During a day in which the defense had the upper hand until the late stages of practice, both Jackson and Simmons showed the impact they could have on Denver's defense.
"We expect that," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Friday when asked about the duo's improvement. "It's their second season together, it's their second season in this system. They should be a lot more honed up and able to anticipate and play plays quicker and know the fine points of our defense even better. And we're looking for big things from both of those guys."
They weren't the only members of the secondary to make an impact during the padded practice. Bryce Callahan had a strong pass breakup against Sutton in 7-on-7 work, A.J. Bouye prevented a throw to Sutton and later defended a pass during a hurry-up drill near the end of practice and reserve safety Trey Marshall broke up a pass against Okwuegbunam during 11-on-11 work.
"He's a veteran, which is obvious," Fangio said of Bouye, whom the Broncos traded for this offseason. "He plays with a calmness out there at the corner position, which is important. He's had a lot of balls thrown his way over the years like all corners do. He knows how to react to whether it's been a good play or a bad play, completion or incompletion. I like the way he plays. He's got a good head on his shoulders, he understands the game. He's made a special effort to learn our system and the fine points of it, because he knows it can only help him. He's been a real pro and a great addition."
Fangio directed the Broncos' first two live periods of training camp, as the defense tackled to the ground during short-yardage and goal-line situations. And after the defense thrived for most of the afternoon, Fangio thought the offense got the best of those situations.
"When we did the live short-yardage and goal-line [periods], the offense took it to the defense there pretty good," Fangio said. "We didn't stop very many plays on defense and they had their way with us there."
The Broncos worked mainly on running plays, and Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman shared first-team work with Melvin Gordon III held out of practice. Lock did find Troy Fumagalli in the end zone for a touchdown during the goal-line period.
"I was pleased with the way they finished practice obviously in the short-yardage and goal-line, but we've got to make sure we can move it down to the goal line and move it well enough to get short yardage at times," Fangio said of the offense. "It wasn't our sharpest practice offensively up until the end, but again, like I've said, I see flashes. I see the potential. But flashes and potential doesn't win in the league. We've got to feel the urgency of how close we are to this opening game and start looking really good."
BETTER IN YEAR 3?
Lock and Sutton couldn't connect on their first few attempts of practice, but during a hurry-up, move-the-ball period, Sutton caught three passes from the young quarterback. On the second catch, Sutton made a terrific adjustment to reach back and snag a pass that was slightly behind him.
After practice, Fangio said he expects Sutton could take a step forward from the Pro Bowl year he enjoyed in 2019.
"Well, I think he's come back in great shape," Fangio said. "He's come back at a weight that I like. He's a few pounds heavier than he reported back last year, which I think is good for him. He doesn't want to get too light. He's just crisper. [He's] running the routes good with more confidence. I think Drew's done a good job of throwing the ball to him. … You make a big jump many times from Year 1 to Year 2, which he made. And I think there's a big jump to be made from [Year] 2 to [Year] 3, also, especially at the receiver position. Hopefully we have more weapons around him too that if teams are paying extra attention to him that we can take advantage of that. And if they don't because of what we have other places, he'll have more opportunities in one-on-one."
- Okwuegbunam added another toe-dragging touchdown, as he caught a pass in the back-right corner of the end zone during red-zone work. Okwuegbunam has spent the last few practices working with a splint on his thumb. Fangio, though, said he's "done very well" and that "you can't even tell." Fangio credited the rookie for not making an excuse.
- Josey Jewell worked with the first-team defense in place of the injured Todd Davis, while Malik Reed got some run at outside linebacker as Von Miller sat out. Reed had some solid rushers and likely would've recorded a sack.
- Peyton Manning watched practice Friday and co-hosted the Broncos' Training Camp Live show. After one Lock touchdown toPatrick, Manning remarked "nice throw." On the Broncos' prospects, he noted the challenge of playing in the AFC West but said, "I think we can have a heck of a team."
- Patrick caught a touchdown from Lock down the seam, caught a third-down pass with Simmons draped over him and then ran a perfect route to the near pylon and dragged his feet for a drive-capping touchdown. The final route came during a hurry-up drill with Bouye in tight coverage.
- Elijah Wilkinson did not finish practice after rolling his ankle, and Calvin Anderson took reps in his place.
- Freeman ran hard Friday and was targeted several times in the passing game. It was likely his most productive day of training camp as he worked in Gordon's place.
- Rookie linebacker Justin Strnad would've recorded a tackle for loss against the first-team offense during an 11-on-11 period.
- McTelvin Agim broke through the line of scrimmage and forced Brett Rypien out of the pocket during 11-on-11 work.