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Q&A: Broncos safety JL Skinner explains why he takes notes on every move Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson make

Henry Chisholm Avatar
November 26, 2023

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Broncos rookie safety JL Skinner made his long-awaited debut on Sunday Night Football against the Vikings last weekend.

His night was short. He didn’t take the field on defense and played six snaps of special teams.

But that could change this week, since 14-year veteran starter Kareem Jackson is beginning a four-game suspension.

“We felt like the last three weeks, you really started noticing him on scout team with his movement,” head coach Sean Payton said of Skinner this week. “He has a good handle on what we’re doing. He’ll have to be ready. He’s got good length and ball skills. There’s no exact timeframe for rookies. I give them a hard time. In college, sometimes you get a redshirt year and there’s that sense of urgency here where it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s go.’ In the last month, we feel like he’s really picked things up and he’s playing with better eyes [and is] quicker.”

On the DNVR Broncos Podcast this week, cornerback Pat Surtain II noted the sixth-round rookie’s study habits. A couple of days later during his weekly media availability, safety Justin Simmons made the same observation.

“He’s just a student of the game,” Simmons said.

On Friday, DNVR’s Henry Chisholm caught up with Skinner to talk about his big week and the opportunities that could be on the way.

Henry: Justin as talking about how you take notes. Where did you learn that? Did somebody teach you how?

JL: Honestly, I learned that at Boise State. My freshman year I was terrible at taking notes. I didn’t really taking notes on nothing. I learned from the vets when I was there, Kekoa (Nawahine), Kekaula (Kaniho), Tyreque (Jones). They taught me how to take notes and ever since then I’ve been a real big notetaker, because as long as I know in my head exactly what I’m supposed to do once I see it, I’ll remember it a lot easier. So it’s a lot easier to do your job. Everything is slower. That’s why I take a lot of notes, just to learn and build your knowledge. It’s different up here (in the NFL). I don’t know nothing. I’m taking notes on every little thing, the rules and all. I just love taking notes.

JL Skinner (right) and Tyreque Jones (left) at the NFL Combine this spring. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

H: What do the notes look like?

J: Shoot, for me it’s like color coordinate things so I can break it up into  first down, second down, third down. Different types of things like red zone, third down, first downs. I keep my special teams notes in the front. I go week-by-week, so “Chiefs Round 2” here. You see I’ve got a lot of notes, bro. I’ve just gotta learn, that’s the challenge.

H: Is that a program or app that they install on the iPad?

J: You can download it. It’s called Goodnotes. It just depends how you want to take notes. Goodnotes helps met the best because I can do a lot of stuff on it.

H: Is that what you used in college?

J: In college, actually, no I didn’t. In college I used a note pad. The iPad thing was new to me when I got here. In college I didn’t have an iPad. We took notes on a regular pen and paper.

H: Do you like the iPad better?

J: You just use it for film and stuff anyway. You don’t need to use it for anything else. That’s why I like Goodnotes because you can look at it on your phone, too. So say I’m somewhere else and I’m just thinking about how I want to look at some notes real quick, I can just go on my phone and start studying.

H: Do you do that often?

J: Yeah, I do. It sounds kind of lame, but I don’t really do nothing outside of football, bro. My TV is film. I don’t really watch TV, I put film up on my Apple TV and watch that. I’m a little lame, bro. I just love the game.

H: That’s not a bad thing. When’s the last time you played special teams before this week?

J: I played special teams my whole college career.

H: Really?

J: My senior year they took me off certain things where I was getting targeting calls a lot. They took me off of like kickoff—actually my senior year they took me off of everything because of my targeting calls. They didn’t want me to get any more targetings. 

JL Skinner celebrates a fourth-quarter interception at Wyoming last season. Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

H: The Vikings didn’t return any kicks did they?

J: No, they didn’t.

H: I noticed those first few times, I saw you were the first one into the end zone.

J: They didn’t return any, man. It’s alright though. It’s hit or miss nowadays with special teams, especially the kickoff aspect just because the rules changed. Even in college you don’t have as many kickoffs because of the touchback rule. It just depends. It’s not bad. You’ve still gotta go as if they’re gonna take it out. You never know.

H: Did you have any nerves before your first game? Especially being out there for the opening kickoff, too.

J: I had nerves for the first kickoff, just because it’s the first time suiting up. After that I realized the speed of the game once I finally got my pads on and I was moving with it. It’s not that bad. My nerves went away and we’re just playing football again.

H: It’s kind of a crazy first game, too. 

J: Yeah.

H: They had the skydivers coming in, everything all lit up.

J: It was a crazy first game, like a little movie. I liked it, though. It’s fun.

H: Are you nervous at all now? With Kareem out, there’s a chance that you either have packages on defense or you fill in whatever the role is, does it stress you out to know that this could be another big week for you?

J: If you’re not prepared, you’ll be stressed. But I’m prepared. I know what’s going on with the game plan. I know everything that’s going on. Every position. I really rely on my vets. They keep me up (to date) and make sure I’m really locked in with everything. If I did get thrown in, I have the utmost confidence in myself to complete everything I need to do. And I feel like the guys playing around me would, too. I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t be nervous at all. Nah, I would probably be nervous that first play, because it’s like ‘Man, I’m playing defense in the NFL for the first time.’ But after that, nah, I’d be good because I’m prepared. As long as you know what you’re doing and you’re prepared knowledge-wise for the game, you shouldn’t be feeling no type of way. You’ll feel that way when you’re not prepared. Hopefully I never feel that way. That’s why I overprepare. 

JL Skinner warms up before a preseason game. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

H: It’s tough that Kareem isn’t allowed in here (in the locker room), either. It’d be nice if he could come to meetings…

J: For sure. That’s a little different. I didn’t learn about that rule until he got suspended because I though he was able to still be here and stuff like that. But, yeah, him not being here in general is kind of like—I don’t really like it as much because having that type of vet around you, you’ll be able to ask him questions and stuff. Like, having J-Simms is like having multiple coaches out there. It’s a little frustrating that he’s not out there, but we’ve just gotta talk to him outside of it I guess. Figure out a way. He do deserve to be here, especially the way that he got kicked out, or suspended, is not really something that I think is a suspension at all. But it’s how it is.

H: The suspension is because it’s the fourth time it’s happened, but you see that hit all the time and nobody gets suspended.

J: Once you get that target on your back, they’re kind of looking for a reason, looking for anything that gets you out of the game, or gives them a reason to feel as if you did something with malicious intent. I feel bad for him. It’s hard to get that target off your back when you get put in those situations. I mean, they put a quarterback as a running back so I don’t know what they really expected to happen. (Kareem) wasn’t just gonna guide him to the ground.

H: On a 3rd & 1…

J: Yeah, you’re a runner on 3rd & 1. It’s a bang-bang play. Especially in that situation. But it’s alright though. You’ve gotta live with it sometimes. Hopefully we get him back soon, though, man. Four weeks is a long time.

JL Skinner helps with a tackle in a preseason game. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

H: What have you learned from Justin and Kareem? And where do you learn? Is it on the practice fields, or in meetings?

J: I watch them every second of every day. I mean, I legitimately watch them like every second of every day. I just really like to study and see what the difference is between those guys and what they do similar. What has gotten them in the league for so long? I really try to study everything they do—the way they take notes, the way they practice, the way they see things, the way they break down film. I sit next to Justin in the meeting room just so I can read his notes and listen to what he’s talking about, what he’s thinking. He’ll talk to me and say ‘Hey, here’s what you should be thinking right here.’ Honestly, being as prepared as I am is really because of those guys because as soon as I got here they taught me that you’ve gotta be prepare no matter what. Ever since they told me the first week I got here that you’ve gotta be prepared no matter what, I’ve been prepared. I’ve wanted to stay ready no matter what. Those guys, man, I couldn’t be more grateful to come in a (position) room with two dudes like that. Not many places have a room like we do where they teach me something new every day. Whether it’s something off the field or on the field, they teach me something. I really do appreciate that for sure.

H: It’s nice that they’re different players, too.

J: Yeah.

H: Justin being that centerfielder type and Kareem who’s like a hitter.

J: Yeah, Kareem is kind of that hammer guy so it’s the best of both worlds. Me, myself, my mentality is kind of like more of a hammer guy. 

H: Exactly. But you’re also long and all that like Justin.

J: Learning from J-Simms, he teaches me how to really play that centerfield and be long and use my range and really get to where I need to be. That’s why I’m glad I got the best of both worlds, man. I’ve gotta dude with 30 picks and I gotta dude with 30 knockouts. You really can’t get too much better than that.

H: I was talking with Quinn Meinerz about this. When he was at Whitewater—Division III—he never played in a two-point stance. It was all three-point stances all the way through. For him, it was watching tape of how a whole bunch of different guys play out of a two-point stance, but alos figuring out for yourself how you, in particular, play. It’s a little different. Do you feel like you have an idea of how you pull from both of those guys and blend it together? Or is that something where you have to get on the field and play to feel it out?

J: Honestly, with J-Simms, one thing I try to steal from him is his knowledge, especially when he’s in the deep third. He’s the kind of guy to see stuff before it happens. I really try to use that because he’s a taller guy like me, so he can see over everything. Trying to figure out how he’s using his height is something I’ve been trying to really study. With Kareem Jackson, honestly he’s the same way with his knowledge as well. They both see it in two different ways. They both know what they’re talking about. Once you get a mixture on that, you want to take bits and pieces from everybody. You can’t really just hone in on one guy. K-Jack does things better than J-Simms. J-Simms does some things better than K-Jack. Having both guys like that, just to take bits and pieces, that’s probably my biggest thing right now. I’ll be stealing anything and everything.

JL Skinner goes through positional drills during training camp. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

H: I’ve got one more question. You were the last draft pick to actually get a uniform and go play in a game. You’ve had to sit on the sidelines and watch everybody else go out there. Is that tough? Especially waiting until November to finally get your chance?

J: Of course it’s tough because you want to play. It’s frustrating because you always want to play. But, at the same time, maybe they’re not in the situation I’m in. How many people have a 14-year vet, an All-Pro safety, another seven-year vet or six-year vet? Not many people have that situation. Most people come into a situation having one vet maybe that has years like that. For me, you’ve gotta look at it a different way. You’ve gotta look at it as, you’ve got all these vets in the room. You might not be playing because of legit numbers. It’s a numbers game. But, shoot, you can still learn. You can still be ready whenever you do play. It won’t always be a numbers game against you. It’s frustrating the first couple of weeks, of course, but at some point in time you just kinda be like, ‘This is an opportunity. I’m still here.’ You can’t be mad that you was the last one to suit up. Shoot, everybody don’t got seven safeties at their position, man. You can’t be mad you’re not in everybody else’s situation, you just gotta accept yours and ride with it. That’s what I’m doing. I ain’t tripping. I’m just stepping into my situation and going with it. I’m being blessed.

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