DENVER — It was as if the Denver Broncos dressed two teams for its cornerback position.
Their A team started A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan in the regular-season opener against Tennessee, and played rookies Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey off the bench.
Ojemudia was benched for two consecutive games with zero defensive snaps near midseason, but was the only one from the original four corners to finish the season as the third-round rookie and someone named Parnell Motley were each forced to play all but two defensive snaps for the Broncos’ B team in the season finale against the Raiders.
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By then, Bouye was serving game four of a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, Callahan was missing his sixth game because of injury, and the rookie Bassey was missing his fourth game following a torn ACL.
Cue Mr. Welk’s wand. A one and a two and three, the Broncos’ top cornerbacks were out.
Bouye has since been cut and Callahan is great when he plays, but too often doesn’t. Bassey is quick in the slot, but there’s no telling how long before he gets his quick back again.
It should be clear by now cornerback is the Broncos’ No. 1 priority this offseason. Even more than quarterback, although finding a veteran to either work alongside, or replace, Drew Lock, is a close second on general manager George Paton’s long list of needs. At corner, the Broncos need two more. It makes sense to take one either with their No. 9 overall pick in the first round or No. 40 in the second round (it is a class 2 ½ rounds deep with corners).
What they have: Callahan was terrific last season but for only 10 games. His slight physical frame, it seems, does not hold up through a 16-game season. Ojemudia took his lumps as a rookie but he came out of it as the team’s best remaining cornerback. That should help him in year two, although he may not be ready to be an opening day starter.
Bassey tore up his knee in early-December so he may be iffy to start the season. A healthy Bassey would be slot ready for Game 1. Motley spent time with three teams in his undrafted rookie season last year and may have won the award for league’s least likely player to start week 17.
The unknown: At least one cornerback starter for the 2021 opener is not currently on the Broncos’ roster. Callahan is a perpetual finger-cross proposition. Besides new players, the Broncos have a new secondary coach in Christian Parker, who is in his first season as an NFL position coach. The team does return coaching veteran Chris Beake, who will serve as defensive passing game specialist.
Possible free-agent help: This is not a strong class for No. 1 corners, but there are some solid No. 2s. The Broncos are in greater need of outside corners than inside, but they could use one of both and the outside starter may come from the draft. The cornerback free-agent class is led by William Jackson III and Shaquill Griffin, with Patrick Peterson, Mike Hilton and former Colorado Buff Chidobe Awuze also expected to get decent contracts. The next group includes Desmond King II, Brian Poole, Kevin King, Michael Davis, Bashaud Breeland, Quinton Dunbar, Jason Verrett, Terrance Mitchell, Troy Hill, Ronald Darby, and the aging Xavier Rhodes and Richard Sherman.
Free agent to watch: Awuze would feel comfortable returning to Colorado after playing four years in Boulder. He had each one interception each of his four years with the Cowboys
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