BRONCOS

For Broncos at safety, don’t forget about 2023 draft pick JL Skinner

Jun 7, 2024, 3:06 PM

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — All JL Skinner could do last year was wait.

Even as injuries and suspensions struck the Denver Broncos safety corps — claiming Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, PJ Locke, Caden Sterns and Delarrin Turner-Yell at various points throughout the season — the sixth-round pick’s time never came. He was active just twice and played only a single snap on defense.

Skinner made progress in the eyes of coach Sean Payton. But if you weren’t at practice, you didn’t see it.

“I’d say the second half of last season, even when he was running scout team, we noticed on offense quite a bit, ‘Man, this guy all of the sudden was jumping routes,'” Payton said. “He was someone that stood out on the tape. I think he’ll want to build on that.”

Asked about the lack of playing time in January, JL Skinner took a positive view of the circumstances.

“I mean, of course, I had a different rookie experience than most guys who get drafted, but I really just took it as gratitude,” Skinner said then. “I was able to sit back and learn from Justin Simmons and PJ Locke and Kareem Jackson, Caden Sterns.”

And one of the lessons Skinner learned from them was patience — which allowed him to maintain a strong mental frame of mind even as the weeks accumulated and he remained in sweats on game day. The veterans infused Skinner with confidence, which he desperately needed.

“Because sometimes there is those self-doubts: ‘Maybe I’m not playing because I’m not good enough, you know?'” Skinner said. “But they told me that you don’t have to worry about that at all. You’re more than capable enough to play in this league, and you’re just in a numbers situation right now, so just stay confident and continue to grow. So that was it for me.”

It didn’t mean that JL Skinner wasn’t frustrated. He just had a road map for handling it.

“Of course you get upset personally because you’re not playing, but, end of the day, they probably have a longer plan for me.”

That plan began to crystallize in recent weeks. Sterns remains sidelined as he recovers from the torn patellar tendon that ended his season before the Broncos’ Week 1 game against Las Vegas reached halftime. Turner-Yell is on a side field, rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 17.

And Skinner is determined to make sure another campaign like last year doesn’t happen again.

“I don’t never look at it as a down year. I look at it as a year (from which) you either use it to grow and learn and never let it happen again, or you’re just gonna stay the same,” he said in January.

“And I’ll make sure I’m ready for sure.”

Because when pads go on in several weeks, it could be his best chance in a safety room that has Locke back and Brandon Jones penciled in to start, but is in a state of flux as it moves forward without Simmons and Jackson.

“We’re going to see a lot when the pads come on and we’re in these team run-pass periods,” Payton said. “Do we feel like he’s better versus the run? Do we feel like he’s better versus the pass?

“I do think he has good instincts.”

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For Broncos at safety, don’t forget about 2023 draft pick JL Skinner