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Broncos’ secondary depth a good problem to have

The Broncos head into training camp with more players and quality depth after focusing on cornerbacks in free agency and the draft.

DENVER — Entering the off-season, the Denver Broncos had a significant need to add depth to the cornerback room after injuries impacted them down the stretch in 2020. Now, the Broncos head into training camp with a good problem to have, more players and quality depth.

During the off-season, new Broncos General Manager George Paton put his cards on the table in support of Head Coach Vic Fangio, citing his experiences watching the Minnesota Vikings go against his defense in Chicago. With that in mind, Paton added depth and value to the Broncos secondary by signing veteran CB Ronald Darby to a three-year deal in free agency.

Shortly after signing Darby, the Broncos began to monitor the Bears situation with veteran CB Kyle Fuller, who was expected to be a cap casualty. Fuller was subsequently released and moments after, the Broncos jumped in and quickly signed him to a one-year deal.

At this point, the Broncos added two corners who added immediate value to a position room that had questions regarding health and depth. Darby is coming off of a stellar season with the Washington Football Team where he had played and started in all 16 games, contributing 16 passes defensed on one of the NFL’s top defenses in 2020.

Fuller is coming off of a one interception season in Chuck Pagano, now retired defensive coordinator’s scheme. For Fuller, some of his best seasons in the NFL came under Fangio’s scheme. In 2018, Fuller turned in his best season as a pro, snagging seven interceptions and 21 passes defensed. The hope remains that Fuller can pick up where he left off previously in Fangio’s defense. 

Credit: AP
Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller (23) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. Bears won 41-17. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)


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As the Broncos approached the NFL Draft, Paton kept his cards close to his chest, not giving much indication to anybody around the league that the team was going to select a CB with their first-round pick. Add Alabama star corner Patrick Surtain II, a lengthy, physical, and cerebral player who was widely considered amongst scouts and various personnel departments as one of the best overall players in the 2021 draft class.

While the Broncos added three new players to the position room, their returning roster also features players who possess the talent to start and contribute in 2021. Bryce Callahan approaches this season fully healthy after missing the final five games for the Broncos last season. Michael Ojemudia enters his second season in the NFL coming off of a rookie campaign where he started 11 games for the Broncos last season.

Ojemudia has been left out of a lot of the national conversations regarding the Broncos cornerback room, but he is deserving of recognition. Last season, Ojemudia stepped up for the Broncos from the very start of the season after A.J. Bouye went down with a shoulder injury against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1.

Credit: AP Photo/Danny Karnik
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus (17) catches a pass as Denver Broncos cornerback Michael Ojemudia (23) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Atlanta.


From that point forward, Ojemudia would experience the normal highs and lows of getting thrown into the fire as a rookie, but his overall season was impressive and is worthy of noting. When the Broncos needed a big play from the rookie, he often delivered. Ojemudia became the first rookie cornerback in NFL history to force two or more fumbles in multiple games and finished as the third NFL rookie corner in the last twenty years to force four or more fumbles in a season.

Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell spoke highly of Ojemudia after the team’s final mandatory minicamp practice. “He’s really a bright guy. I see him as a multi-positional player. Just a really bright future for him here because he understands football, and he’s in Year 2. The good ones spike in Year 2 because they have that knowledge of playing and being in the meetings for a year. He came in in a COVID-19 year, and that was a really fast turnaround for guys because they had a short training camp, and then he played in the very first game, and he played a lot. We’re really looking forward to Year 2. He’s jumping in there and really competing even though we have a lot of competition.”

Fangio had mentioned that Ojemudia can still play on the outside, but has begun to learn the nickel and dime positions for the defense. Despite all of the additions at corner this off-season, Ojemudia will still see time on the field even if he doesn’t start. The five man depth of Surtain, Callahan, Fuller, Darby, and Ojemudia are as deep as they come in the NFL, but even behind Ojemudia, talent still resides.

Essang Bassey, Duke Dawson, Nate Hairston, Kary Vincent Jr., Parnell Motley, and Mac McCain III round out a very deep position room heading into training camp. Bassey enters this season coming off of a torn ACL, but his rehab has progressed along nicely. Fangio alluded that the team would ease Bassey into things once padded practice begins, but he should be ready to go by the time the season starts.

Dawson is also coming off of a torn ACL and will likely be eased into things a bit later on in camp. He may also be a candidate who starts off the season on the PUP list, which should garner him protection when roster cuts occur. Internally, the Broncos and Fangio are high on the former second-round pick who has played some nickel, safety, and corner for the team and has contributed on special teams.

Credit: AP
Washington Football Team cornerback Ronald Darby #23 reacts after an interception by inside linebacker Jon Bostic #53 in the fourth quarter during an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Justin Berl)

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Hairston is a 5th year veteran who came to the Broncos back in December of 2020 after being signed off of the Baltimore Ravens practice squad. He was released in April due to a roster technicality, and would re-sign the day after. He will provide some depth for the team at the position and will likely see a lot of action during the team’s three pre-season slated schedule.

Vincent Jr. is an intriguing prospect for the Broncos who could potentially excel in a role on special teams as a gunner on punt and kickoff. His 4.3 speed could also give him a chance to receive reps in a return role in training camp. If he can carve out a role for himself on special teams, he’ll likely be considered as a depth option.

Motley is entering his second season in the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent. The Broncos signed him off of the San Francisco 49ers practice squad towards the end of the 2020 season. He would be thrust into action against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 16, replacing De’Vante Bausby and showed enough grit for Fangio to start him in the team’s Week 17 regular season finale against the Las Vegas Raiders.

His hustle and effort stood out on film where he put himself in position to help Ojemudia force a fumble against Henry Ruggs III. Motley would recover the fumble and give the Broncos some momentum in the fourth quarter. As it stands on paper, Motley could be considered a practice squad option for the Broncos, but could contend for a roster spot if he puts together a strong training camp and preseason display.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos cornerback Bryce Callahan (29) breaks up a pass intended for Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) as strong safety Kareem Jackson (22) looks on during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)


Regarding depth, what had suddenly been an issue for the team at one point of the off-season has now turned into one of their biggest strengths. How might the Broncos get all of this talent on the field together at the same time poses another question that Donatell shared his thoughts on.

“The first thing when you put a bunch of talent together is you want to know how they fit together. What’s the chemistry? What’s the harmony? That’s been fantastic. Everybody has been working together and connecting. I couldn’t be more pleased. You can’t have too many guys. We’re going to go to camp and guys are going to earn roles. We’ll get as many DBs that play well on the field. I know [Head Coach] Vic [Fangio] wants to get these guys involved and he’s excited as well.”

Training Camp is just two and a half weeks away where the Broncos 90 man roster will walk out of the locker-room and onto the field at the UCHealth Training Center where we will provide continued coverage of the team’s depth at corner and much more.

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