The Denver Broncos' 2022 campaign did not go as planned, but there's reason to be optimistic about 2023. The Broncos ponied up for Sean Payton, sending first and second-round picks to the New Orleans Saints for their Super Bowl-winning head coach plus a third-rounder in return. Payton is an offensive mind who can fix that side of the ball for Denver, as the offense was the Broncos' main issue in 2022.
As for Denver's defense, it's actually pretty stout. This unit has young talent at all three levels, and general manager George Paton even brought back former head coach Vance Joseph as defensive coordinator to lead the charge. One of the leaders on defense is All-Pro safety Justin Simmons, who tied for the league lead in interceptions last season with six.
This week, he spoke with CBS Sports about a variety of topics, including his new head coach, why quarterback Russell Wilson will rebound in 2023 and an underrated teammate he says fans should keep an eye on.
CBS Sports: You guys traded for a pretty solid NFL head coach in Sean Payton. Tell me a little bit about him. What has he brought to the Broncos thus far?
Justin Simmons: Sean has been great. I've had the opportunity to be around him and work with him during the OTA phases, and like I said, he's been awesome. Super educational, really competitive, and man, it just makes me look forward to camp and then preseason and then obviously heading into the regular season. It gets me really excited.
You're entering Year 8, coming off of another All-Pro selection, a career-high six interceptions. How has the game changed for you? What are you doing differently to prepare for this upcoming season?
JS: You know I feel like the game is ever-changing. It seems like there's always something new. So I feel like I'm always having to stay on my toes about the new things and the new schemes and the new styles that the offenses are running. I think one of the biggest credits I can give to my preparation year in and year out is the guys that I'm surrounded by. Playing with guys like Pat [Surtain], playing with guys like Kareem [Jackson]. Alex [Singleton] and Josey [Jewell], guys like that. I think for me, having that group of guys that I get to go into games with and knowing how they prepare, that kind of helps me knowing where they're going to be -- the trust factor.
Vance Joseph is back with the Broncos. You have a relationship with him. What's it like having him back in the building?
JS: I love VJ. I think he's a tremendous coach. I think he has a great mind for defense and I'm just really excited for the season with him. I mean he's stepping into a different role this time around as a DC, and so being more hands-on has been really cool to see throughout OTAs.
Your quarterback Russell Wilson had a bit of a tough year in 2022. What changes have you seen from him? Is there a different kind of energy he's brought this offseason?
JS: Yeah. Russ has to be one of the hardest-working guys that I've ever been around. Period. His preparation and attention to detail, work ethic -- when you talk about all those things -- man, it means so much to him, and he works so hard. I can't wait to watch him this year, and have a front row seat being his teammate, because I know how hard he works and I know how much it means to him. It kind of makes everyone else want to push their game and have the same type of dedication -- at least it does for me.
Who is the toughest quarterback you have faced as a safety? I know there's some guy named Patrick Mahomes in your division, but who is a quarterback you've really grown to appreciate?
JS: Yeah I would definitely have to say Mahomes and then also -- just in my career in general -- I think Tom Brady was really special. I played against him I believe twice, once when he was with the Patriots and once when he was with Tampa. I think just the way that he can break down the game from an offensive standpoint and knowing what the defense is going to be in, knowing what matchups he wants, getting the motions to what he wants and knowing your checks. I think all those things are what made him super special. Not taking anything away from anyone else, because the guy wearing 15 in Kansas City is a menace in and of itself, and he's a pretty tough quarterback to go up against every year. But I'm super thankful, because I want to play against the best, and I think he's definitely the best.
Who is an underrated player on the Broncos defense that we need to look out for in 2023?
JS: The first person that came to mind is Damarri Mathis, our corner. I think for those that watched the Broncos games might agree with me. We had a little rough start earlier in the year, and then every game since then, really just elevated his game more and more and more and he's just playing with more confidence. So I'm really excited to see what he does heading into Year 2 of his career because I think he can be special.
JS: One of the things that caught my eye was the fact that this campaign is called "Prevent Defense." I thought that was interesting because just like playing defense in the NFL, wildfire prevention is all about preparation, and we all have to do our part.