ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' longest-tenured players have seen their share of different faces during their NFL careers.
Safety Justin Simmons, who is entering his eighth season, will play for his fifth full-time head coach in 2023 as Sean Payton guides the Broncos into the season.
During his tenure, Simmons has had offensive-minded and defensive-minded head coaches. First-timers and veterans. New-school minds and old-school approaches.
Through it all, Simmons has not lost his optimism.
"I wouldn't say I hold back my enthusiasm," Simmons said Thursday. "I think, for me, there's been a few constants that have helped. You talk about having 'CP' [Defensive Backs Coach Christian Parker] back in the building, obviously having Kareem [Jackson] back. Most of the guys in the DB room have been pretty consistent, and there's a lot [that's] still normal there. Obviously with the coaches, there's obviously a lot of new, but I still get excited. I still get to play the game at the highest level that I've wanted to do since I was little. It sounds like a cliche response, but for me, I try not to take that for granted. That's sort of the mindset each and every year. Just really thankful, because I know a lot of guys can't do that."
Payton acknowledged that Simmons and some of his teammates have been through consistent change, but he also noted the ability of the team to adapt to new circumstances.
"I said it in the first team meeting that some [of them] might feel like orphans, but you've got to quickly adjust," Payton said. "Players are resilient. They're going to learn. It's something that's talked about a lot. Coordinators are going to change, and position coaches are going to change. These guys are picking it up. Certainly, we're mindful of some of the things that they've used before. If there's something that they know well, then we'll learn it as a staff and then adapt with it. Players will learn it. There are a few different ways to call certain things, but quickly, they've picked that up."
During the transition, Payton's ability to communicate the "why" at practice has helped players like Simmons transition to a new structure.
"If I had to sum it up in one word, I'd say educational," Simmons said of Payton's practices. "He's really good at explaining how he wants things done and why it's being done. I think it gives a great purpose to everyone before and after each set period."
As the Broncos approach their final week of OTAs, Payton and the coaching staff will continue to evaluate their team. But in these early stages, they're also careful to not pass judgment too quickly on a player or his potential role with the team.
"You're always guarded," said Payton of how quickly he determines the vision for a player. "I'll give you an example. We drafted in the seventh round a player — Marques Colston — in that … '06 [NFL] Draft. He was a compensatory [seventh-round pick], so towards the end of the draft. During this period of time, he was a little overweight. Not a lot, but as a receiver, he was having back spasms. Meanwhile, we had a sixth-round pick at receiver, too, who was the Biletnikoff [Award winner], and he was magnificent out here. Then training camp came and all of a sudden, we began to see a little different [of a] player in Marques. He began to pick things up and by the time we got to the start of the regular season, he was our starting 'X' [receiver].
"You just want to be cautious not to judge too quickly or evaluate too quickly. You're working on their improvement. That's kind of been my experience with not just the receivers, but with a lot of these positions. The pads sometimes can define a player. There will be a couple of guys here that we're watching and then when training camp begins, all of a sudden, the profile changes, because we're now in full pads. It's hard to be in these drills defensively [with] your assignment, your alignment and your technique. When the pads come on, you get a better feel for your team. That's important to I don't want to say hold judgment, but [having] patience and making sure. The No. 1 thing is, 'Does he know what to do?' The worst thing we can do as a coach is confuse a player and then he's playing at 70 percent speed because he's uncertain. That hinders the evaluation. Now, ultimately, they have to get it, and sometimes it's not for everyone, it's just too much. But they're picking it up. I'm pleased with that.
"It's gone well so far."