Justin Simmons dons green dot, but leadership role isn’t new
In a way, it seemed almost destined. Justin Simmons, a second-team All-Pro last year with the third-highest salary for a safety in the league — and a sterling resume off the field — will take over signal-calling duties following the season-ending pectoral injury suffered by linebacker Josey Jewell in Week 2.
There’s no question he’s ready for the role. After all, leadership is already kind of his thing.
“It’s solely my responsibility — and I say solely, in part with Kareem (Jackson) and I, being the quarterbacks of the defense. It’s our job to make sure that guys are caught up, we’re all on the same page, and there are no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Simmons said at the Broncos’ Dove Valley headquarters on Wednesday. “Anything that has to do with communication from the defensive standpoint has to come from the safeties. That’s why I’m so adamant in saying it’s never necessarily one person’s fault. It’s all-encompassing — all how we see it, all how we feel what’s going on out there on the field. It’s our job as safeties to communicate that to the rest of the defense.”
Now, Simmons will bring the plays from the sideline and into the huddle, as the telltale green dot moves from Jewell’s helmet to the Broncos’ sixth-year veteran. Few players are as loquacious, or as well-stated as Simmons, a leader in Denver’s charitable community — one that he committed to when he signed a four-year, $61 million contract extension to remain with the only team he’s ever played for.
Simmons has only seen one winning season with the Broncos — in 2016, when the Trevor Siemian-led club went 9-7. But after a 2-0 start to the 2021 season, Simmons finally sees the opportunity for another one.
“We talk about it all week; that winning is contagious. It’s important to realize where you’re at, but also at the same time, not get caught up in the moment and living off the past,” Simmons said. “We always say, ‘1-0 every week.’ That’s all we care about — a clean slate and starting it over, but more importantly, building off the success that has been coming in the past two weeks. The biggest thing is just not getting caught up in it too much. After the game on Sunday, you enjoy the win on a Sunday, come back in on Monday and watch the film. After you’re done watching the film, you’re on to the next team.”
That “next team” happens to be the 0-2 New York Jets. Their rookie quarterback, Zach Wilson, has had a rude introduction to the NFL, throwing five interceptions and being sacked 10 times in those two games. For Simmons, the key is to make sure Wilson’s road stays bumpy.
“The mentality for us is that we don’t want to be the team that gets him out of his slump,” Simmons explained. “We kind of want to make sure that whatever team they’re playing the next week, they (think about) the game he had the week before the game against Denver, and it’s our turn to take advantage of that.”
Wilson had a nightmare game in last weekend’s 25-6 loss to the Patriots. At one point, he had thrown more interceptions than completions.
“Defensively for us, it’s the same mentality every week, though,” Simmons added. “The biggest thing for us is that we want to make sure we’re asserting dominance. We’re back on our home field. The crowd is going to be there. It’s going to be electric, and we want to definitely give our fans a show on Sunday.”
Simmons was on the last Broncos team to start the season 3-0; that 2016 version in his rookie season. That team won its first four games before finishing on a 5-7 skid that marked not only the Broncos’ last winning season, but also kicked off this desultory, four-year long trek into the NFL’s wilderness.
They’ll need leaders to show them the way out. In Simmons, at least, that part’s covered.