Justin Simmons is entering his eighth NFL season after failing to reach the playoffs in his previous seven.
That comes as a surprise considering he was drafted by the Denver Broncos less than three months after their 2016 Super Bowl victory.
The Broncos’ playoff drought is the second-longest in the league. The drought was supposed to end last season with the blockbuster Russell Wilson trade, but Denver’s 5-12 record was probably the biggest disappointment of the league.
So, they revamped their coaching staff and brought in Sean Payton.
“It’s been great so far. We’ve only had OTAs with him this offseason, and it’s been great just getting to know him, getting to know his coaching style a little bit. And just makes you really excited for camp and then preseason heading into the season,” Simmons said in a recent interview with Fox News Digital.
“He’s been really great, he’s been awesome, super educational and, like I said, I can’t wait for the season.”
Payton is Simmons’ sixth head coach, including last season’s interim Jerry Rosburg, in the NFL. The 29-year-old admitted learning so many different styles of coaching in such little time is “tough,” but his teammates are ready to get back to January football.
“What makes it great is the guys in the locker room, and you realize how important each relationship is,” Simmons said. “I see it day in and day out, guys pouring in blood, sweat and tears heading into the season.
“Even though you may fall short, you see the work that’s being put in, and you can appreciate it. Sometimes, the ball just doesn’t roll your way, and that’s what makes me excited with Sean coming in, and [Russell Wilson] heading into year two with us and [Vance Joseph] coming back. Got the whole defense and things like that, new additions here and there. Each season really is a new team, breath of fresh air. So you can reminisce on years past, but really, heading into a new season, it’s all brand new from top to bottom, so I’m really excited about that.”
The ball almost never bounced the right way for Denver last year. Their 29 total touchdowns were tied for the second-worst mark in football, and their 16.9 points per game ranked dead last. To make matters worse, the Broncos didn’t have their first-round pick due to the Wilson trade.
Simmons is Pro Bowl safety, so there’s not much he can do on offense, but he’s done harping on what was and what could have been.
“I think there’s a lot of things that you can say about last season, but it’s one of the things I love most about football. You only get 17 games. If you win, that’s great, you watch the film, and you gotta move on to next week. If you lose, you learn from your mistakes, you watch the film, and then you still gotta move on to next week. Next Sunday’s coming whether you want it to or not. No matter what happens in that game, you forget about last week.
“Same thing year to year — 2022 was 2022. Obviously, you’re gonna get asked about it, questions are gonna be brought up, but that year is over with — 2023, new team, obviously new coach. There’s a bunch of new. We’re just excited to get 2023 off the ground and compete. Obviously, it’s already been a work in progress, but just excited to compete.”
Simmons says getting to the playoffs is his “No. 1 priority,” and he doesn’t have to look far for some motivation. Empower Field at Mile High is less than a mile away from Ball Arena, where the Denver Nuggets won their first NBA title last month.
He has spent his whole career in Denver’s thin air, which, much like other parts of the country, has had its share of poor quality thanks to wildfires. Simmons partnered with USAA and the Denver Fire Department to spread awareness of wildfires. Colorado leads the U.S. in wildfires, and nearly 90% of them last year were caused by humans.
“They’ve been really good the past few years now, so the fans, being in the city the past few years, it’s been pretty cool to watch them put it all together this year and obviously go on that championship run,” Simmons said of the Nuggets.
“For me, thinking about it, this is a Broncos-ran city, and I kinda saw the tail end of it when I got here as a rookie coming off their Super Bowl 50 win. All I want is to get to the postseason and experience that and compete at the highest level there is. So, looking forward to that.”