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Stellar start for Surtain: Broncos' rangy corner poised for stardom in second year

Simmons, Surtain make stellar plays on day two of training camp
Broncos Football
Posted at 3:57 PM, Jul 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-28 18:44:21-04

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Long after practice, Justin Simmons hung out near the locker room entrance talking shop. Roughly an hour earlier, he made the type of play that drives home why he is considered by many the league's top free safety.

Simmons has more range than your cellphone plan. Thursday, he recognized a look and took off with a great angle toward the left sideline. The pursuit was part of his education as a player. Last season, he overran a similar ball thrown by Justin Herbert. Noted. And this spring he learned that Russell Wilson throws a deep pass that maintains height and velocity longer than expected. Computing this calculus, Simmons bolted and made a leaping deflection in front of Jerry Jeudy.

"The guys were giving me a hard time that I should have caught it," Simmons said. "I need to watch the film to see if that was the case."

What was true is that it was a remarkable play on a day where the secondary, including rising star cornerback Pat Surtain, showed up and showed out. Simmons, looking like Willie Mays tracking a flyball, surprised even coach Nathaniel Hackett.

"Woah. That was awesome. You know, having gone against him a lot, (his ability) shows up at times, like in OTAs. But that one right there was pretty dramatic. We were actually trying to pick on somebody else and he came over and made the play," Hackett said. "That was unbelievable.”

It was not long after that Surtain drew hoots and hollers from his defensive teammates. Wilson lofted a ball down the left sideline intended for Courtland Sutton. With his back turned to Sutton, Surtain jumped up and clubbed the ball from Sutton's grasp. Many league executives and coaches believe Surtain will ascend to All-Pro level in his second season. It's not hard to see why. He boasts a unique blend of length, athleticism and football IQ.

"All of the above," Hackett said when I asked about Surtain. "I think he's just a great person to start off. He’s a smart guy. There are some new things he’s doing out there and he’s starting to feel good about those. You add in the range, the speed, the strength, all those things. That play was awesome because that’s two big human beings competing for a ball, and you love to see that."

Surtain looks like Simmons, except the corner version. They are roughly the same size, with Simmons praising Surtain for arriving to camp bigger and stronger, "but he's just as fast and smooth."

Pro Football Focus recently ranked the Broncos' secondary 12th entering the season, an interesting choice given Denver topped the list a year ago. Simmons and Surtain anchor the coverage, Ronald Darby aims to end his 30-game interception drought, K'Waun Williams is the new nickelback and strong safety Kareem Jackson provides the soundtrack and the muscle.

Told of PFF's ranking, Jackson bristled.

"Nothing I do on a daily basis consists of thinking about PFF. In my opinion, that stuff is a bunch of bull. All these ratings and rankings and all that crap, none of that stuff matters. The only thing that matters is what we do on Sundays," Jackson told Denver7. "We put the work in everyday. The only thing that matters is what we come out and do."

The reality is this group is poised to be special because of its talent and experience. And if the offense produces consistent leads, the opportunities for takeaways will grow exponentially.

"I believe we are a top five secondary, day in day out. The talent all across the board, the veteran leadership we have. We come out here and make plays everyday. I believe we are top five, even a top secondary," Surtain said. "We are just going to keep showcasing our ability.”

Offensive momentum
The Broncos' offense continues to make progress, and had a slightly better performance on Thursday. Russell Wilson had a solid completion to Jeudy vs Surtain, then connected on five straight passes at one point in 11-on-11 work, with receiver Tim Patrick emerging as the top target.

The best moment came when tight Eric Saubert sat down in the right area, caught a clean dart from Wilson, raced to the end zone and dunked the ball over the goal posts.

You might have noticed that the Broncos players are wearing the Guardian Cap over their helmets, designed to make the game safer. By league mandate, they will be worn through the second week of preseason games. The hope is that they will reduce concussions. The science has shown that one player wearing a cap can reduce the severity of a collision by 10 percent, with the number doubling if both players involved are outfitted with the caps. Players don't like how they look, but understand the goal.

As for running backs, Javonte Williams continues to get starter reps, but Melvin Gordon follows with the next set of first-team reps, not taking any with the second team. Hackett believes there is room for both to excel in this offense, including using them as receivers out of the backfield in space.

Former Nuggets president of basketball operations and current Timberwolves exec Tim Connelly attended practice and talked with Broncos GM George Paton.

The Broncos practice at 10 a.m. Friday. They will not be in pads.