Defensive backs lean on A.J. Bouye, Bryce Callahan (if healthy)
Ninth in a series previewing the Broncos’ position groups entering training camp:
What happens if cornerback A.J. Bouye gets hurt? Or cornerback Bryce Callahan breaks down again? Or safeties Justin Simmons or Kareem Jackson miss time?
The Broncos have a top-heavy depth chart in the secondary, which is fine if the aforementioned quartet stays on the field. Only Simmons didn’t miss a game last year. The depth should be a concern because of the inexperience behind the starters.
Who’s back: Justin Simmons (S), Kareem Jackson (S), Bryce Callahan (CB), De’Vante Bausby (CB), Duke Dawson (CB), Davontae Harris (CB), Isaac Yiadom (CB), Shakial Taylor (CB), Alijah Holder (S), Trey Marshall (S) and P.J. Locke (S). Simmons was the Broncos’ best defensive player last year, playing every snap, intercepting four passes and being named second-team All-Pro. He will play this year on the franchise tag. Jackson, moving from Houston cornerback to Broncos safety, made several splash plays among his 71 tackles and 10 pass break-ups. Marshall will start camp as the No. 3 safety and Holder, who switched from corner to safety after last year’s preseason, will get a chance to win a spot.
Who’s gone: Chris Harris (CB, signed with the Los Angeles Chargers), Will Parks (S, signed with Philadelphia), Horace Richardson (CB, free agent), Tyvis Powell (S, free agent) and Cyrus Jones (CB, free agent).
Who’s new: A.J. Bouye (CB, trade from Jacksonville), Michael Ojemudia (CB, third-round pick from Iowa), Douglas Coleman (S, undrafted free agent from Texas Tech), Kahani Smith (S, free agent). Bouye takes over as the No. 1 cornerback. He has 14 interceptions in 93 career games, including eight for Jacksonville from 2017-19. Ojemudia will get a chance to win the No. 3 corner spot. Coleman had eight interceptions last year for the Red Raiders.
Pressure’s on: Callahan. The only player coach Vic Fangio brought with him from Chicago, Callahan didn’t make it to last year’s preseason opener because of broken hardware in his foot that eventually required surgery. He’s basically on a one-year deal (the Broncos can create a shade over $6 million of cap space by cutting him after the season). If healthy, he will play opposite Bouye in the base defense and against the slot receiver in sub packages.
Camp competition: No. 4 cornerback. One constant last year was the churn at No. 2 cornerback once Callahan sustained his foot injury. Yiadom (Games 1-3), Bausby (Games 4-5), Harris (Games 6-11) and Yiadom (Games 12-16) all started. And Dawson played 350 snaps as the nickel. The return to health of Callahan and drafting of Ojemudia means these players are now battling for the fourth spot. Bausby is healed from a serious neck injury and should be considered the favorite. Yiadom played better in his second chance at starting. Dawson’s experience playing against the slot receiver could keep him on the roster.
Key statistic: One. Interceptions last year by the Broncos’ cornerbacks (Chris Harris).
Quote: “Michael brings size, he brings speed and he can judge a ball deep down the field. We want him to (play) as much as he can as a rookie.” — defensive coordinator Ed Donatell on Ojemudia.
Final thought: The Broncos’ secondary will be tested by Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady in Weeks 2-3. The expectation is the return of outside linebacker Bradley Chubb and arrival of defensive end Jurrell Casey will force more errant passes that can be intercepted. A key will be simply getting a hand on more footballs — Broncos cornerbacks had only 18 pass break-ups last year.
Tuesday: Special teams.
Previous previews: Quarterback, defensive line, running back, tight end, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, wide receiver, offensive line.