Kareem Jackson stresses that Broncos playoff hopes are “on us”
Kareem Jackson has seen it all. The 34-year-old safety is now in his 13th NFL season, making him the most-experienced player on the Denver Broncos’ roster, and one of the few with playoff experience. Jackson visited the playoffs five different times as a cornerback with the Houston Texans, but the Broncos haven’t been to the playoffs for six consecutive seasons following their Super Bowl 50 win; tied for the longest current streak in the NFL with only the woebegone New York Jets — and the longest playoff drought for a Super Bowl champion in league history.
Despite the excitement generated by the arrival of nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson, Jackson made it a point to remind the media and fans that the playoffs aren’t easy to get to. And they’re definitely not made on paper.
“You still won’t know until you get into the season and start to play some real games. Right now, we’re just running around, even though we are in full pads. We’re still not tackling or anything like that,” Jackson explained after Tuesday’s practice; the first in which they’ve been in those full pads. “On paper, I think we have what it takes. It’s all up to us to come in, day-in and day-out, and put the work in. I think we have a good group of leaders, mixed with a core of young guys, and guys that have been playing for a while. I think we have the right guys in the locker room. We just have to be willing to come out each and every day and put that work in, and be consistent about what we do in order to be successful and make that playoff run.”
Thus far, the Broncos’ defense has consistently gotten the better of an evolving offense, one that now misses a significant player as starting wide receiver Tim Patrick was lost for the season Tuesday after suffering a torn ACL on a non-contact injury. Patrick, who signed a three-year, $30 million extension with Denver last November, has been the Broncos’ most consistent — and up until Tuesday, healthy — receiver over the last three seasons. Even with Patrick on the field, Jackson’s defense has dominated their offensive teammates, but credited Wilson’s arrival as the impetus for much of their improvement.
“Any time you get to see guy like (Wilson) every day, it’s a luxury for us as a secondary. Having the chance to go against him, it’s definitely making us better,” Jackson clarified. “It’s all about communication and making sure we’re on the same page; just realizing the different things they’re throwing at us. If we’re all on the same page before the ball snaps, I think we have a pretty good chance of being successful against anybody.”
Of course, the high-flying AFC West doesn’t have just anybody — Wilson joins a stacked division that already had former Super Bowl champion, MVP and four-time Pro Bowler Patrick Mahomes, three-time Pro Bowl selection Derek Carr and former Offensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl invitee Justin Herbert — the explosive passing offenses that the Broncos will be facing will prove daunting at the very least.
It’s fortunate, then, that Jackson’s rapport with his running mate at safety makes for one of the league’s finest tandems.
“Playing with Justin (Simmons) for four years now, it’s kind of like we’re both thinking the same thing. Anytime you can build a relationship with a guy like that — a player like that — where you don’t have to say much and you’re kind of thinking the same thing and you’re seeing things through the same set of eyes; getting guys lined up and getting them in the right situations for us to be successful, it’s always great,” Jackson said.
Simmons, still ascendant in his seventh NFL season, was named the NFL’s best safety by ESPN last month.
“In this particular scheme, we’re kind of seen as the quarterback,” Jackson added. “To have two guys that can quarterback it, see everything, be on the same page and think the same things is great for us. It’s definitely been a luxury for me to have him alongside, for me to learn from him. It’s just my fourth year playing safety, so obviously, he’s been playing safety a lot longer than me. I still learn some things from him, and we bounce things off each other — ideas and things we may see. It’s been great.”
Last season, the defensive backfield that Jackson and Simmons anchor was joined by then-rookie cornerback Patrick Surtain II, who immediately established himself as one of the league’s up-and-coming stars. If the early days of camp are any indication, Surtain has already reached another level in his sophomore season — he’s arguably been the best player on the field for the Broncos. That includes Simmons and even Wilson.
“Pat is having a great camp thus far. It’s him just recognizing things a lot more with our receiver splits, and just recognizing the different routes he’ll get from the splits. He understands things like that from receivers; formation recognition and things like that,” Jackson, the converted corner, explained. “He’s been working since Day One, and he’s been getting better each and every day. For me, I’m always excited to come in and see what step he’ll take next. He never disappoints with that. It’s a privilege to have a guy like that out at corner, because as a safety, you really don’t have to worry about him much. He’s been great.”
Despite Patrick’s unfortunate and unavoidable injury — backup running back Damarea Crockett also suffered a torn ACL on Tuesday and will be lost for the season — the veteran of veterans at the Broncos’ Dove Valley headquarters was still optimistic about the less-physical practices that new coach Nathaniel Hackett has instituted this summer, with the stated intent of trying to minimize injuries.
“As a team, I don’t think we can be successful if we’re not healthy,” Jackson said.
Staying healthy in the NFL gets harder at the age of 34, of course, and as a result, Hackett’s relatively brief, “jog-through” practices have also been a welcome change for a player that’s spent his long career both delivering big hits and taking at least his share, as well.
“I love it. It’s my 13th camp, so dialing it back every third day — he can dial it back every second day if he wants,” Jackson said with a wide smile. “I won’t argue with him at all. I think it’s great.”