Broncos Camp Battles Part 3: Cornerback
There aren’t a whole lot of question marks at Cornerback for the Broncos this Training Camp. But I have to at least touch on it. The Broncos enjoyed their best overall Secondary play in a long time as a unit in 2012. There was great chemistry and execution on the backend of the D. But the Broncos let the oft injured and maligned Tracy Porter walk, after signing him to a 1 year deal last offseason. And that opened the door to some new blood in both the Draft and in Free Agency. With the Divisional Round meltdown last January vs the Ravens still fresh on the minds of many Broncos fans, let’s take a look at how the Broncos will stack up this year.
The demise of Champ Bailey, the Shutdown Corner, has been greatly exaggerated. Many pundits and fans, are on the bandwagon that Bailey’s performance vs Baltimore in January is Exhibit A that he’s lost it and has finally taken that step over the hill. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m not gonna bore you with a slew of advanced metrics and stats, but rather I want to give you some honest analysis, based on what my eyes tell me. Has Champ lost a step? Honestly, yes he has. He’s not the same player that he was in 2004. Just like Peyton Manning isn’t the same QB he was in 2004. He’s lost a little bit of his speed. But he more than makes up for it with his knowledge, experience, technique, and athleticism. Last year, he consistently shut down the #1 receiver. For example, the player that supposedly put the nail in the coffin of his career and who burned him for 3 catches for 98 yards and 2 TDs in January, Torrey Smith, was held to 1 catch for 14 yards when the Broncos played them in week 15 last year. So you’re telling me that from Week 15, to the Divisional Playoff round, which is about a month in real time, Champ Bailey lost all of his abilty? No, my friends. Simply not true. My view: Look for Champ Bailey to easily maintain his role as CB1 on the Defense and for him to continue to shut down #1 receivers.
The Arizona Cardinals made DRC the 16th pick in the 1st Round of the 2008 Draft. He went on to become an integral part of their 2008 Super Bowl run that culminated with them barely losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fast forward to 2011 and the Cardinals made the huge organizational mistake of trading him, along with a 2nd Round pick, to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for……..Kevin Kolb. Needless to say, the Cards got the raw end of that deal. DRC never really jived with the Defensive scheme in Philly. He’s more cut out for press-man coverage, rather than the zone scheme that they liked to run. But the Eagles definitely left the proverbial money on the table by not making the most out of DRC’s abilities and letting him walk in Free Agency. The Broncos signed him to a “show me” deal of 1 year, $5M. He’s currently slotted at 1st Team RCB, opposite Champ. Once he heals from his high ankle sprain he suffered last week, I fully expect Del Rio to take advantage of his 6’2 height and his sub 4.40 speed. My view: Once he gets healthy, he’ll hold down the fort and excel at RCB in 2012.
Chris Harris came out of nowhere during the 2011 Training Camp. Not only did he go undrafted out of Kansas in 2011, but he wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine. He continued the Broncos remarkable streak of having an Undrafted Rookie Free Agent make the 53 man roster that year. He went on to take the league by storm by fighting tenaciously, tooth and nail, to shut down the NFL’s best slot WRs. (With the exception of Wes Welker. Thank goodness he’s a Bronco now) Harris is the Defense’s ace Nickel CB. He’s become one of my favorite players to watch, as he just keeps getting better each game. He also has experience playing on the outside and I’m sure until DRC’s healed up, it’ll be him playing outside on 1st & 2nd down and then sliding over to the slot on 3rd down, while Tony Carter moves outside. My view: Harris not only makes the 53, but continues his unlikely rise to the top of the NFL’s CB crop.
Jack Del Rio calls Tony Carter “Sticky Man” and for good reason. He came out of nowhere in 2012 and confidently eased into the regular rotation on Defense, after Tracy Porter went down. And because Carter played so well, the Broncos could afford to let Porter take his time healing and I’d even go so far as to say they let him languish on the sidelines, often not even letting him dress. (Even though he publicly said he was 100%) Last year he had 12 Passes Defensed, along with 2 interceptions (1 of which he took back for a TD), a fumble recovery that he took back for a TD, and 27 tackles. He’s another great story, as he went undrafted out of Florida State in 2009. My view: He makes the team and contributes significantly in Nickel and Dime situations.
Bolden had a decorated career at Arizona State and was on pace to possibly become a 1st Round draft pick. Then he tore his ACL and that derailed his hard fought momentum. However, even though he was still recovering from his knee injury as he entered the 2012 Draft, the Broncos thought of him highly enough to make him the 101st overall pick in the Draft. Bolden played mostly on Special Teams in 2012 for the Broncos and struggled to see the field with UDFA brethren, Harris & Carter, tearing it up. He possesses enough natural ability and tenacity to make a difference in the Secondary, but unless he has a great Camp and excels in Preseason action, he’ll probably still face an uphill battle seeing the field, except for Special Teams. My view: He makes the team, but will be buried on the Depth Chart.
Many Draftniks, like Mike Mayock, felt like the Broncos reached a little bit in drafting Webster 90th overall in the 3rd Round this year. I tend to agree. It’s not that I don’t think he doesn’t possess the requisite talent and ability to play in the NFL, but rather I think they could have picked him much later on in the Draft and gotten better value out of their 3rd Round pick. Webster played college ball at the University of South Florida. Reviews on Webster coming out of Dove Valley so far have been largely typical of most Rookies. He often looks lost and gets burned on the reg. We’ll see how he develops. If he wasn’t drafted so high, I’d put him on the Roster Bubble. But he ain’t gettin’ cut this year. My view: He makes the 53 but he’ll only see the field on Special Teams, or in case of multiple injuries in the Secondary.
See Part 2 of my Camp Battles series for my view on Jammer. He was brought in for overall depth in the Secondary and if he made the team, he’d likely play a utility role on the Defense, filling in for starters who might go down. My view: Jammer’s getting cut.
Honestly, I had to dig to get any knowledge and perspective on Malone. The Broncos liked him enough to claim him off waivers last week. He might just be a camp body. My view: He’s an extreme long shot to make the 53. Camp casualty.
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