Training Camp Observations: Justin Simmons continues to shine
After a day off on Thursday, things kicked off at the usual time on Friday morning out at UC Health Training Center. The pace of practice has not changed much, so I’m kind of used to being bored at times when watching this team prepare for the 2021 season. It’s not ideal, but they have their schedule and it’s different than what I’ve seen in years past.
The Broncos only have one more practice at the training facility (and one at the stadium) before they leave for Minnesota. They’ll have joint practices with the Vikings before their first preseason game next Saturday. With time winding down, the Broncos are running out of time to get things right.
Here are my five biggest observations from day eight of training camp.
Revenge of the Simmons
I love watching Justin Simmons play football. He’s one of the best safeties in the league and is one of the hardest-working players on the field.
He’s been regularly picking off Drew Lock in practice, but it was Teddy Bridgewater who felt the wrath of Simmons.
Towards the end of practice, the team was working on red-zone offense. Bridgewater was able to fit a pass in to tight end Noah Fant with Simmons in coverage. The window was tight with Simmons in coverage, but Fant fought to get the ball and the offense erupted on the sideline.
A few plays later, Simmons got his revenge.
It was a similar play design, and Bridgewater was trying to hit a target in the back of the end zone while rolling out. Instead of connecting on another score, Simmons swooped in with great burst and picked off the pass. As he raced down the sideline, Simmons had plenty to say to the offensive players lined up.
It was a fun exchange and showed how Simmons gives it right back to the offense when they want to talk smack after a big play. As I said in the opening, there’s not much excitement at Broncos camp and this was the play of the day. The crowd – and the Broncos defenders – were certainly into Simmons big interception.
I hope the Broncos name a starting quarterback sooner rather than later. Was it a Bridgewater day? Was it a Lock day? Why are they giving so many reps to Brett Rypien? I’m kind of over the whole thing.
Every day, we see pretty much the same thing. Outside of one horrible day for both quarterbacks, most days we see them go through the motions and do what we expect them to do. Nothing’s changed in this quarterback battle, and I think the team should make a decision on the starting quarterback so this team can move forward with their rightful leader.
Bridgewater is steady most every day. He’s smart and reads the field quickly. In fact, he does a good job before the snap reading the defense and gets rid of the ball in a hurry. He doesn’t go down the field that often, although he did have one big pass for a touchdown to Jerry Jeudy on Friday. Most of the time, this is what Bridgewater does – just like I thought he would.
Lock is less consistent than Bridgewater. He holds onto the ball too long most of the time and his footwork when passing is hit-or-miss. Lock has a rocket arm and can attack a defense vertically – just like we all know he can. He may have more comfort in this offense than he did a year ago, but you don’t really see that come through on the practice field.
Enough is enough. The Broncos should do themselves a favor and make a decision – something I believe could be coming next week after the first preseason game. Stay tuned.
The pads are on, but there’s not much physicality in practice so far. Rookie running back Javonte Williams is one of the most physical players on the team, but we can’t see him do much as a runner because there’s no live tackling in practice.
Williams is going to be fun to watch when he can play his game. He led all FBS running backs in 2020 with 75 broken tackles, and keeping his legs moving after contact is the hallmark of his game. Once we get to the preseason, we’ll actually get to see Williams deal out some punishment.
In practice on Friday, cornerback Ronald Darby went to “tackle” Williams as he was running towards the sideline on a big run. Darby got a little physical with Williams and was trying to rip the ball away as the back went out of bounds. He got a little push in on Williams but the rookie did not respond.
I have a feeling that if the tackling was live Darby would not want to do that to a power player like Williams. Perhaps we’ll see the rookie take out any frustrations on the Vikings next week.
Making His Case
There are players who need a good training camp to make the team. There are players who are going to make the team no matter what they do in camp. I like watching the former rather than the latter as these players will put it all on the line so they can impress the coaching staff.
Josh Watson is doing a great job most every day out on the practice field. The Broncos first noticed Watson at their local pro day back in 2019. He’s been with the team since then and has been working for a larger role.
He’s always been a solid special teams player, but this year during camp we’re seeing him get a chance to do more on defense and he’s coming through. Watson is smart and always around the ball. He’s not fooled by play fakes or pump fakes, and Watson can get his hands on the ball in coverage. On Friday, McTelvin Agim tipped a pass by Lock and Watson came down with it.
Watson is making his case to make the 53-man roster as a reserve inside linebacker the team can trust.
When practice starts, astute fans can see certain players working on the third practice field. These are players who are coming back from injury but are not yet ready to resume work with their teammates in drills.
On Friday, guys like Mike Purcell and Josey Jewell were still missing time due to injury. Purcell has missed most of training camp due to an ankle injury. Jewell has missed the last few days due to a groin injury.
After practice, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said that both would be back soon. Purcell should be back before Jewell according to the head coach. I believe Jewell may need another week of recovery before he gets back out there. We could see Purcell get some time against the Vikings (in practice) next week.
Both are starters for the Broncos defense, and both have players behind them (Agim and Justin Strnad) who are making a case to start. We’ll see if they can get back out there soon.