When the Broncos hit the field again in just a few short weeks, fourth-year safety Justin Simmons will line up alongside several new teammates. The Broncos added cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan in free agency, and the dynamic additions could help Denver’s secondary return to previous heights. DenverBroncos.com caught up with Simmons for his thoughts on his new teammates, his early impressions of new Head Coach Vic Fangio, how the defense could stack up against AFC West opponents and his goals for the season.
Aric DiLalla: What are your initial thoughts about the team signing Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan to the secondary?
Justin Simmons: "I’m excited, man. You look at what Kareem did when they played us last year, you just talk about a physical presence and obviously with Coach [Vic] Fangio being the new head coach and [Defensive Coordinator Ed] Donatell and them bringing over what they did with Chicago [with a] big emphasis on tackling and just having that defensive presence about you. It’s just a no-brainer picking up Kareem. You talk about Bryce, [almost] his whole career has been with Fangio and that system. … We have a bunch of guys that are smart and will learn the system fast, but it never hurts to have someone that can help implement things quicker and be like, ‘Yo, this is what I learned that will help this stick easier.’ And not to mention, [he’s] a heck of a player. I’m just excited, man. I’m excited to get back to the ways of what this program and what this team in general is used to — and that’s winning and winning in the postseason.”
AD: What sort of confidence do you have in this team after those moves, the signing of Ja’Wuan James and the trade for Joe Flacco?
JS: “As a player here, seeing the moves that we made and the players that we’ve added and kept, I think it’s very evident that if you’re part of Broncos Country, you have to be excited. It’s evident that it’s not [solely] a build-for-the-future type of thing. Nah, we’re shooting for this now. That’s the mentality you have to have. Every year you can’t just go into it saying, ‘We’re building for the future.’ Because that means you’ve already given up on the season. We’re in a tough division, so we’re attacking it now. We’re building defensively, we’re building offensively, we’re bringing in guys who fit the system. It’s a win-it-now mentality.”
AD: In a tough AFC West, do you think this new-look defense can slow down teams like the Chargers and Chiefs?
JS: "For sure. Just looking at last year, there were obviously some games where defensively we had our share of breakdowns, but I think about the Monday night game against the Chiefs at home. I thought defensively we played great outside of the last couple minutes, which was kind of like the story of our season: not being able to finish close games. But I thought for the first three quarters, you’re talking about a high-powered offense that we completely took away — with obviously [Chiefs QB Patrick] Mahomes making some plays here and there. I think that’s encouraging. And then you bring in Fangio and his staff. Seeing what he did, it’s just exciting. They played some high-powered offenses last year in Chicago and completely took away turnovers. You could just see on tape if you watch film that presence about their defense. Obviously as a defensive guy, I’m always high on building up the defense. Obviously offense puts points on the board, but defense wins championships. That’s evident [looking] at the last Super Bowl that was won here.”
AD: What have been your early impressions of Vic Fangio?
JS: “I talked to a couple guys that I know from Chicago, and they call him ‘the Godfather.’ You talk about a defensive guru, and that’s what they bring up. … We unfortunately haven’t been able to talk X’s and O’s and all that good stuff, but I’m just excited. Like I said, I’m a guy that watches other players and other teams from around the league — especially ones that are doing really well — to see what I can learn, what I can take away. I found myself consistently watching some of the Bears guys. … So to know that I have that now here is amazing. There’s no excuse to not go out there and execute at the same level that Fangio’s previous teams have done. Each place that he’s come from has elevated their game, so now with Denver, even though we’ve always been good defensively, we need to elevate it to be great again.”
AD: With all the versatile players the Broncos have added, what would it mean for you if you’re able to stay at the safety position instead of moving around to nickel and cornerback like you did last season?
JS: “When I was coming out of the draft, one of my upsides was versatility, and I pride myself on that. Not only physically, but the mental aspect of being able to go from safety to nickel to corner. It’s hard, especially when you’re not prepping all week to play corner and then you just get thrown into the fire to do it. It’s tough — in the NFL especially — but you’ve got to be able to make those adjustments. I think having those guys like Kareem, who plays both [positions] consistently, a guy like Bryce, who knows this system [and] can easily adjust to things, and then you’ve got a guy like Chris, too, who’s been in multiple defenses and has seen every look you’re going to get, all that stuff helps. If it’s needed, great. But am I excited to just stick at one spot and to know going into it that we’ve got other guys that are versatile too and can plug in here and there? Oh, yeah — of course. [It will] help me play faster, smarter and better.”
AD: How unusual is it for a team to have that many versatile defensive pieces?
JS: “That’s what must be amazing from a D-coordinator’s perspective. Typically you have one guy that can do this really well. I think that’s just the evolution of the NFL, though. You have safeties, corners, nickels that have to be interchangeable at times. You’ve got tight ends lining up at X receiver, so you’ve got to be able to have guys that can line up all over the field and be able to execute at different positions at a high level.”
AD: It seems hard to believe, but you’re heading into your fourth season. Have you thought about the type of year you want to have?
JS: “This season is bigger than others. Obviously [it’s a] contract [year], but just because we’ve got a new defense, too. It’s so easy to be able to use different things as excuses, but I’m just excited to show the potential that I know I’ve always had. Regardless of if people so far think I’ve had a good [career], decent [career], not as great as they expected — me personally, I know it’s not anywhere close to what I know I can do. I’m excited to be in this defense — a defense that has always excelled — to be a part of it and leave my mark. Obviously, contract extensions and all that stuff, I’d love to be in Denver. This is the place that gave me a shot to play football, has trusted me early in my career, so for me, I want to be able to … have an amazing season. Not in other people’s eyes, but in my eyes. … My personal goals are at an all-time high, higher than they were ever in the past. … I’m putting all the pressure in the world on myself. I’m excited.”
AD: We can’t forget what is perhaps the biggest question on everyone’s mind: Is the secondary going to have a new nickname? Do you have any ideas yet?
JS: “Chris was the originator of the 'No-Fly Zone,' so I guess it’s kind of up to Chris in terms of originating a new name or say, ‘Nah, that’s my name and it’s staying here.’ All I know is that the secondary is going to be great. As Bryce put it, ‘dangerous.’ Maybe we can incorporate that into some cool nickname. As cool as it is to come up with a name, we’ve got to make sure that we force that onto opposing offenses. We’ll see. Maybe it’ll just come to us after the first couple weeks of what needs to be a dominant performance to set the tone for the season.”