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Broncos Joint Practice Observations: Justin Simmons turns the tide for the defense

Zac Stevens Avatar
August 16, 2019


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The minute Jimmy Garoppolo stepped on the Broncos’ practice field on Friday morning he instantly became the highest-paid quarterback to ever do so.

Despite 10 career starts, less than 3,000 career passing yards and five-straight interceptions during Wednesday’s practice, Jimmy G’s $27.5 million annual salary topped Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco’s $18 million 2019 salary, Peyton Manning’s $19 million salary he made during his time in Denver and, of course, Case Keenum’s $18 million he made last season.

For the first part of practice, Jimmy G certainly looked like he was worth every penny of his $27.5 million. But that changed.

As always, BSN Denver was on hand for the Broncos and 49ers’ joint practice on Friday. Here’s what went down between Denver’s defense and San Francisco’s offense.

(Check out Ryan Koenigsberg’s comprehensive report on the Broncos’ offense here.)


The Broncos’ offense struggled on Friday, to put it nicely. For the first half of practice, it appeared the defense was following their lead.

Garoppolo showed not a single sign that he had thrown five-straight interceptions in his most recent practice before making his way to Denver to face off against the Broncos.

No. 10 was money out of the gate. His first three completions all went for first downs, including attacking Chris Harris Jr.

The next periods, during 7-on-7s, Garoppolo was sharp, manipulating the defense with his eyes and finding the open receiver on all but two passes.

In the next team period, nothing had changed from the perspective of Jimmy G, looking mighty fine. He connected with tight end Ross Dwelley in the middle of the field over Justin Hollins for a first down then went back to the middle to find Jalen Hurd for a gain of 10.

When the team’s moved into the red zone, the Broncos found more success against the pass. That, however, came with a significant amount of help from the 49ers as Garoppolo overthrew what would have been a touchdown pass and another pass for six sailed right through a receiver’s hands.

Another completion for a mere five yards rounded out what was a successful first hour of practice for the 49ers’ offense and an undeniably concerning start for what many believed was Denver’s biggest strength.

Up to this point, Von Miller had been fooled on two play-action bootlegs, allowing Garoppolo to throw on the run comfortably for two completions.

Despite the 49ers’ not having George—the Bronco killer—Kittle, Kyle Shanahan was still able to have success in the middle of the field with backup tight end Ross Dwelley and a myriad of receivers. Additionally, speedster Marquise Goodwin was eating Denver’s defense alive.

In the air, it hadn’t been a kind hour to Vic Fangio’s squad. But Justin Simmons appeared just in time.

On a move-the-ball period near the end of practice, San Francisco was slowly but surely moving down the field. On 2nd-and-1, from their own territory, Garoppolo faked a handoff from the gun, attempted to roll out to the right, but was instead forced to awkwardly step up in the pocket with Von shutting down the right side.

Panicked, Garoppolo tossed the ball to the right sideline. Poor decision. Simmons was all over the ball from the moment it left the pocket. Seconds later, Simmons was leaping in the air, corralling the pass and taking off the other way for a pick-six.

The defense went wild in the end zone celebrating Simmons’ sixth interception of camp.

“I think he can be an interceptor for us,” Fangio stated after practice. “I think the way we play fits him. I think it’s a good marriage, him and us, us and him.”

Not only did the defense dominate the rest of practice, but Simmons’ pick also reinvigorated the entire unit. On the next play, with the backups in, the second-team unit was bouncing with energy. The 49ers’ offense had multiple pre-snap penalties early in the drive. After each and every one, Denver’s defense went absolutely wild, hooting and hollering as if they had dominated the day.

The energy and momentum from Simmons’ interception carried over to the final team period. With the starters in, Garoppolo had both of his passes hit the ground as he never looked comfortable in the pocket or reading the defense.

Simmons’ interception was undoubtedly practice-changing for Denver’s defense. But that wasn’t all he did. He began practice with a near interception during one-on-ones, albeit against the 49ers’ fourth-string quarterback.

Just plays before his interception, the 6-foot-2, 202-pound safety blew up a run play as he threw his blocker, Deebo Samuel, into the ball carrier, leveling both of them.

“On the defensive field? I thought it was pretty equal,” Fangio said after practice, evaluating how his defense did against Shanahan’s offense.

If it wasn’t for Simmons, the practice was trending in a much different direction.


Don’t be fooled.

For a myriad of reasons, it appeared Chris Harris Jr. was settling into his home at outside corner, leaving behind a wild successful stretch as the game’s top slot cornerback outside of a few plays here and there.

Well, that just ain’t happening.

On Friday, playing in more snaps than the second preseason game, Harris Jr.’s preseason debut, it became very clear that the Pro Bowl cornerback will be all over the field this upcoming season, specifically in the slot.

Against the 49ers, No. 25 was the team’s right outside cornerback for roughly half the team’s defensive snaps and in the slot—whether that be on the left or right side—for the rest.

The first two plays Garoppolo looked Harris Jr.’s way, the quarterback actually found rare success by completing both passes. After the second, a short completion during 7-on-7’s, the veteran cornerback displayed his frustration without holding back.

Success was nowhere to be found targeting No. 25 after that.

Three other passes went to Denver’s best cornerback. All three were incompletions, including smothering coverage in 7-on-7’s and a short pass to a tight end in the middle of the field in which Chris broke up.

When Harris Jr. was in the slot, Isaac Yiadom stepped in for him as the team’s right corner opposite Bryce Callahan on the left side.

For a moment, there was a belief Chris Harris Jr.’s days of being in the slot early and often were behind him. According to Friday’s practice, that simply isn’t true.


Earlier in the week, it was the Alexander Johnson show at inside linebacker. On Friday, next to Josey Jewell, it was the Josh Watson spectacle.

Instead of rotating linebackers in and out and giving them all equal reps, as the team’s primarily done with Todd Davis sidelined for camp, the Colorado State product stole the majority of the reps with the first-team unit on Friday.

Although Justin Hollins spelled Watson at times, it was No. 54 who trotted out with the unit first nearly every series.

“Much like Hollins, it’s some good, some bad,” Fangio said after practice, evaluating Watson’s progression. “Some happy with, some disappointment with.”

All of that was on display on Friday.

Shooting out of a cannon from the middle of the field, Watson had two major run stuffs. The first was a solo tackle for a short loss in the backfield, while the other was a tackle near the line of scrimmage.

However, on a different play, Watson appeared to be lost just before the snap. Lined up at the traditional inside backer spot, multiple defenders told him to kick outside to cover a receiver in the slot. With clear confusion, Watson trotted out just as the ball was snapped. The play turned out to be a four-yard completion but to the opposite side of the field.

Outside of that play, however, the undrafted rookie looks like he belonged.


  • Will Parks did not practice for a second-straight day nursing a slight hamstring injury. That, however, did not keep him silent as he was talking mad smack all day from the sideline, while also coaching up his fellow safeties that were on the field.
  • Jamal Carter, the inside linebacker, had a beautiful pass breakup in smothering coverage on a tight end in the middle of the field. As he got up, his teammates shouted his nickname “monster” as he let out an enormous scream of excitement.
  • DeShawn Williams played a significant number of snaps as the team’s nose tackle, giving Shelby Harris some breathers. He took advantage of his time, including racking up a run stuff in the red zone.
  • Mike Shanahan and Peyton Manning were in attendance for the first of the two joint practices.


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