Ahead of the start of training camp, Broncos rookies have reported to get back up to speed on the field before camp begins in earnest. (Photos by Ben Swanson)
The Broncos veterans report to training camp on Wednesday, and cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib and safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart will once again roam the practice field as the most dominant secondary in football.
When the "No Fly Zone" arrives at training camp, the pair of rookie safeties will be expected to carry their weight – and quickly.
"Those guys demand a level of excellence and a way to do things in the secondary," Simmons said. "They're not going to let a couple of rookies come in and lower the bar. There is a standard already set, being that they are already the best secondary in the league. We have to come in and match that — not come in, feel it out and see how it goes. We have to come in and match that mindset, that mentality and get out there and compete."
For the next two days, Simmons and Parks will have a chance to review the playbook and get up to speed with the rest of the rookies, who reported Monday. That two-day head start is a "big help," Parks said.
Come Thursday morning, however, they'll truly begin to pursue roster spots and, ultimately, playing time.
At the beginning of camp, Simmons said he expects to learn the specifics of a single safety position, but Defensive Backs Coach Joe Woods and Assistant Secondary Coach Samson Brown will likely prepare Simmons to handle dime and nickel responsibilities, as well.
The third-round pick out of Boston College enjoyed the weeks between OTAs and training camp in Florida, but Simmons said he didn't spend much time away from football. Simmons could see serious playing time in 2016, and he knows the opportunity won't wait for him.
"That's the goal—to come in and play," Simmons said. "It's not college. You don't redshirt. You don't just get to take a year and see how things work. It's a job now. You've got to come in and compete for those spots. If you're not (competing), the guy behind you is. That's definitely the goal to make sure I get out there by any means necessary."
Parks, too, recognizes the immediacy of the moment. He spent much of his offseason in Denver, and – between volunteering at local community events – he made sure to devote time to studying his playbook on his iPad. The study wasn't exhaustive, but Parks would go over base coverages to make sure he stayed sharp.
As he approaches training camp, he said he realizes that success relies upon "more than football." In addition to watching tape and performing on the field, he said the veterans in the group have taught him the value of timeliness and respect.
But the coaching staff and veterans in the secondary have also helped Parks and Simmons hone their on-field skills. They've pushed the two rookies to improve upon their fundamentals, including tackling and breaking toward the ball. Parks said Ward has pointed out mistakes in footwork that could be the difference between a blown coverage and a big play.
"[I've been] just listening to those guys," Parks said, "and it shows when they take the right step [and] that play is a pick-six or it's an interception. Learning-wise, [I'm] just picking up from those guys and putting it to my skill set."
Parks – understandably – said he feels a bit anxious about his first training camp with the Super Bowl champions. The best way to relieve that stress and guarantee a spot on the team, however, might be via special teams. As important as the nickel and dime roles are to Denver's defense, Simmons said Monday he feels the same desire to perform well for Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis' unit.
"I'm expecting that to be the launching pad into the Broncos organization," Simmons said. "You do so much as a defensive player, but to be able to add that special teams part to your resume and to be able to actually commit and make plays in that area of the game, that'll help you to be able to stick around for a long time."
That process will officially begin on Thursday, when Simmons and Parks join the "No Fly Zone" and rush toward the 2016 season.
The learning curve will be steep. The reps will be quick. The expectations will be high.
And Simmons and Parks couldn't be more ready.