ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Nicknames are beginning to stack up in the secondary at the UCHealth Training Center.
In 2015, after the signing of Darian Stewart, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby, T.J. Ward and Stewart donned the catchy ‘No Fly Zone’ title. Two years later, with no room left in the original ‘No Fly Zone,’ a new group has emerged: ‘Baby No Fly Zone.’
“Myself and Will [Parks] and a few of other guys consider ourselves ‘Baby No Fly,’” second-year safety Justin Simmons said. “We’re still in the works. We’re still learning a bunch of the tools and the trade to carry the ‘No Fly Zone’ logo around with us.”
Fittingly, the new group encompasses the younger members of the defensive backfield, although the exact member list wasn’t revealed. Aside from the gimmicky nickname, the ‘Baby No Fly’s’ importance to the secondary, and defense in general, will certainly increase in 2017 — potentially enough so to earn a nickname.
While Simmons, Parks, Lorenzo Doss and other younger members of the secondary titles won’t necessarily change, their expectations from the rest of the team will.
“I see the role will be very similar in the fact that we are still backups,” Simmons explained during the final day of OTAs.” But we are one play away. When we do get in there, with it being it our second year, we should be able to execute at the same level of efficiency that ‘Stew’ and T.J. are executing at. I know Talib, Chris, Roby, even [Derek] Wolfe and all of the veterans on the defensive expect that and demand that out of us.”
One of the areas of emphasis for the younger players will be creating turnovers, thanks in part to new defensive back coach Marcus Robertson.
“From a safeties perspective, just him being there and understanding what quarterbacks are looking for or what offenses are looking for. [Robertson’s] putting us in the right positions in OTAs,” Simmons said. “That says a lot not being with him too long to make plays. That’s what it’s really all about is getting the ball and that’s what we preach in the [defensive back]room.”
The emphasis on turnovers from Robertson has paid off during OTAs, especially for the younger players, and the veterans have taken notice.
“Doss is just a ball hog. Doss is always around the ball,” Harris said. “He may get beat but he might still come out with a pick.”
As for Simmons, he pictures his ideal role in Denver’s defense as a ballhawking safety.
“I like playing that high range, roaming safety, where I can just see ball, go get ball and help the corners out in man-coverage or zone-coverage or whatever it may be,” he said. “That’s definitely something that we preach in the room.”
Robertson, a two-time All-Pro safety in 1993 and 1997, has been crucial not only in the extra emphasis on creating turnovers, but in the continued development of Simmons and Parks as they both enter their second year in the league. However, it’s not just the coaching staff that is grooming the young defensive backs.
“Joe Woods is sometimes in there walking through film with us. Whatever he sees and I don’t see, I ask him,” Simmons said. “Aqib, Chris, T.J., ‘Stew’ and Roby, the way that they study the game, they dumped a lot of that knowledge on myself as well. It’s just building blocks, we keep learning anyway that we can.”
Simmons and Parks also learn from one another and hold each other accountable, just as a pair of starting safeties would.
“Will and I are always in constant contact, making sure that we are looking over the same stuff. We may watch a little bit of last year’s Oakland game. We’ll come back with questions or things that we thought we both could have worked on, things of that nature,” Simmons explained. “We might pull T.J. or ‘Stew’ aside from a safeties perspective and ask, ‘On this specific play, what was your thought process? How did you know that this was going to happen?’ Anything that we can learn to get better as far as tendencies that offensive coordinators run. That’s what we are trying to pick up to improve our game.”
The help doesn’t stop on the defensive side of the ball, either. Since safeties can often be the determining factor for a quarterbacks read on a play, Simmons will occasionally go straight to the source after practice.
“As a quarterback, for them, the story is the safeties for the most part, whether they are tilting one way or not. That pretty much gives them their pre-read before the play actually happens,” Simmons said. “There are tons of times when we are in the locker room after practice and Paxton [Lynch] is walking by or Trevor [Siemian] is walking by, and we’ll ask, ‘On this particular play, we saw you look frontside. Was there a reason why? Was there something that I did to make you check the call or anything like that?’ Just to get inside the mind of the quarterback a little bit.”
If the ‘Baby No Fly’ is able to get inside the mind of opposing quarterbacks often during the season, they very well may earn their new nickname.