ENGLEWOOD — Russell Wilson became the smiling face of the Broncos the moment he was acquired in March. He is the sun of the Broncos' universe, a star quarterback capable of creating amnesia about the past six seasons.
But the most decorated veteran with Broncos statistics? That's easy: free safety Justin Simmons. He enters his seventh season with All-Pro honors, Pro Bowl berths, Top 100 player rankings, but something is missing, gnawing at him.
"Winning. That’s the only thing motivating me. My six years, going on year seven, I have never been in the playoffs. The closest I have been was 2016 the year after the Broncos won the Super Bowl. It’s crazy," Simmons said in an exclusive interview with Denver7. "I have seen a lot of my colleagues I train with go on and play in the playoffs. I always feel like I am watching after the season, and it’s not a good feeling to have. So this year, it’s playoffs.”
The Broncos open on Monday night against Seattle. Every year feels fresh because of roster turnover and infectious optimism gleaned from months of training. This year, though, should be the equivalent of Febreze because of the enormous change the Broncos have undergone. This wasn't a new shutters and door project. More like a Forever Home from Property Brothers.
"Yeah, new ownership (Walton-Penner group), new coach (Nathaniel Hackett), (relatively) new GM (George Paton). Everything I have known about the Broncos the past six years is just different," Simmons said. "There’s new energy. The city is buzzing for all the right reasons. Everyone knows the city loves their Nuggets, their Rockies, their Avalanche, but the city flourishes when the Broncos are playing winning football. That’s what we want to provide. It’s been mediocre for way too long. It’s time to get back to winning."
Wilson's history suggests he will make a difference. He has reached the postseason in eight of 10 seasons. He is also undefeated in his last three openers with 10 touchdowns and one interception.
And he debuts against a team he knows better than anyone on the Broncos. So, yes, Simmons leaned on the nine-time Pro Bowler this week.
"Oh yeah of course. You have to. You have to find out. He spent all of his career there. Was really successful. And you always want to pick his brain, and ask him, 'If they are in this situation or that one, what will they do? And will they go to this guy more? What are some tidbits we should know?^' Anytime you can get some inside information like that it’s always key," Simmons said. "I definitely picked his brain, probably more than he likes, but anything you can do to win.”
Broncos kick off season on Monday Night Football at Seattle on Denver7
Simmons understands that Wilson is the focus. But the Broncos boast an intriguing defense. If the sacks and takeaways increase with more leads, it could be one of the league's best. The challenge of proving it begins at Lumen Field.
"It’s going to be crazy, hostile, loud. It’s going to be exciting. This is why you play — from a defensive perspective — to go in there and silence the home crowd. There's s no better feeling," Simmons said. "I feel like we have a really great defense. But it doesn’t matter what it looks like on paper, it matters how you execute."