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Iron Man Justin Simmons is as good as he is durable

Broncos' fourth-year safety leads team with 38 tackles, 2 interceptions
Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Justin Simmons celebrates an interception against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — He picks off passes, he tackles, he roams, he directs teammates into position and he does all this play after play after play.

Justin Simmons is the Broncos’ Iron Man.

He is the NFL’s most durable player as Simmons has played in 1,443 consecutive defensive snaps – each and every one since he took the field for the first  play of the season opener last year against the Seattle Seahawks – that is the longest current streak among defensive players.

“It’s definitively something I take joy in, just the fact of being durable, your coaches trust you to be out there for as many plays as you can,’’ Simmons said in a sit-down interview with 9News this week. “The way I like to look at it is, I like to be a problem solver. A lot of what offenses do nowadays is try to discombobulate the defense, so while I’m out there, I do my best to make sure everyone is on the same page and even if we’re all wrong, we’re all right. “Being out there is one thing I try to bring to the table week-in and week-out.’’

Consecutive Team Defensive Snaps, Active Streaks (REG) 

Player, Pos., Team ................ Snaps ... Start Date

Justin Simmons, S, Broncos .....  1443 ....... 9/9/18

Malcolm Jenkins, S, Eagles ....... 1438 ....... 9/6/18

Bobby Wagner, LB, Seahawks ... 1234 ..... 9/23/18

Joe Schobert, LB, Browns ............ 798 ... 11/11/18

Jarrod Wilson, S, Jaguars ............. 560 ... 12/23/18

Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Bills ........ 527 ... 12/16/18

Budda Baker, S, Cardinals ............ 521 ... 12/30/18

A humble man whose periodic media interviews lend proof he forever puts team above self, Simmons made sure to credit those who take personal care of him for his playing streak.

“Being out there for that many plays is a testament to the program we have here, our strength staff, training staff, getting me right. It’s definitely a blessing to be part of that,” he said.

His next 60 defensive snaps or so will come today against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium (kickoff at 11 a.m.) The Broncos were in Indy two years ago and though they came in struggling with a 4-9 record and fell behind 10-0 in the Thursday night road game, they wound up making Colts’ quarterback Jacob Brissett look bad in relief of the injured Andrew Luck.

Brissett is still the Colts’ quarterback after Luck shockingly retired prior to the start of the regular season. Brissett part II is much improved.

“He’s confident,’’ Simmons said. “I think one of the biggest things is they showed confidence in him in terms of the contract that he got (two years, $30 million).

“Obviously, with Luck being gone they were, “Hey, you’re our guy.’ That’s a lot of confidence shown in a quarterback and you start building off that. They’ve had great wins – the Chiefs, the Texans, now they’re playing at home verse us. So it’s a tall task going into Indy and coming out with a win. But I think we’re the group that can get it done.”

Since Simmons brought up the value of a what a contract extension can do for a guy, it’s time to mention he is having his best season in the final year of his rookie deal. The Broncos do want to work out an extension with Simmons, as they did fellow 2016 draft pick Andy Janovich two weeks ago.

There is a strategy to such things, though. As the third-highest-paid fullback, Janovich’s new deal averaged $1.9 million a year. The safety position is considerably more expensive. The 10th-highest-paid safety, Green Bay’s Adrian Amos, makes $9 million a year. The 5th-highest-paid safety, Miami’s  Reshad Jones, averages $12 million per season.

“There were discussions earlier on in the season and my agent (Todd France) was talking to me a little bit,’’ Simmons said. “I had told him about keeping me in the loop of what’s going on, but for the most part, unless you don’t think anything’s going to get done during the season I just want to focus in and play my best ball.

“I don’t want to focus on what people think or what’s being said or how much this, how much that, the value of this or the value of that.

“I really wanted to focus this year on playing my best ball for my teammates, getting the defense down and try to learn the new system with Vic (Fangio) and his staff. That’s been my focus to try and be the best version of myself every week on Sundays.”

To date, with the offense playing so terribly of late and Von Miller not compiling the sacks at his usual rate, Simmons has arguably been the Broncos’ most valuable player through seven games. He leads the team with 38 tackles and two interceptions.

He was especially active against in the Broncos’ previous game 10 days against the Kansas City Chiefs, recording 7 solo tackles in the first half alone. Simmons’ fine performance went for naught, though, as the Broncos’ offense was putrid after putting up six points on its opening drive.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh we didn’t do this, we didn’t do that on offense,’ but as a defense, you know our offense went out and scored our first series,’’ Simmons said. “And we’re asked – one of our main goals as a defense is to sustain the momentum. So if we go out there and get a stop, we get our offense right back on the field to keep that momentum going for them to move the football. And we were unable to do that. They go right down the field and they score. And that’s a huge impact on the game. That carries weight momentum-wise for the rest of that first half.

“There were a lot of things we didn’t do well – turnovers being another big one where we didn’t give our offense a short field and really stress that (Chiefs’) defense. While it’s so easy for people to finger-point and think this way or that way, there’s a lot of things we didn’t do well enough in order to win that football game.”

The offense will have less talent this week after its most proven receiver, Emmanuel Sanders, was traded to San Francisco essentially for a high, third-round draft pick. Simmons was a third-round pick. Maybe the Broncos can get a player of his caliber from the Sanders trade.

As for Sanders’ absence, Broncos players coming in and out of the trainer’s room later in the week went right by his empty locker – a reminder than no one is irreplaceable and life in the NFL is about saying goodbye darn near every week to someone you know well.

“Yeah, it’s one of those weird feelings,’’ Simmons said. “I don’t like making comparisons but I felt the same way when I saw D.T.’s (Demaryius Thomas) locker gone. You’re so used to coming in and – there are some people that you think of as staples, and Emmanuel was one of those guys.

“But like he said, all good things come to an end. Yeah, it was a weird feeling, one that honestly still adjusting to, not having ‘E’ in that locker room for  multiple different reasons. But in the same breath I’m happy for him. He’s a tremendous athlete and I’m excited for him to still be able to showcase his talents.’’

Once the game is played Sunday, Simmons will return home with his team and there’s a good chance he’ll be supporting the team’s charity event Tuesday, either at the Halloween celebration at Children’s Hospital, or a local police function. Perhaps no Broncos’ player volunteers more time to the cause than Simmons.

“I look at it twofold. One growing up, I didn’t get to where I am today – and I’m not saying I’ve made it – but I didn’t get to where I am in the NFL on my own,’’ he said. “There’s a lot of  people that helped me along the way. A lot of people that probably don’t think they helped made a big impact on me.

“That’s one of the things I think about when I’m going out giving my time. Especially the kids or those families that are going through a rough time I like to give my time and show a little bit of appreciation for something that’s bigger than football. Because people here love their Broncos. It’s something way bigger than yourself.

“And the second thing is just that, it’s way bigger than myself. It’s so easy to get caught up in the world that you’re in, the film study and the constant hours that you put into it, and sometimes you don’t have enough time to really enjoy it. Especially during the season. So I make it a point to show up to events, shake people’s hands. Networking is important as everyone knows. It’s just nice to show your face and give your time.”

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