Thoughts on the Broncos’ secondary

The defensive backfield has some interesting plot twists coming into view this week. Second-year player and former UDFA out of Mississippi, Cassius Vaughn (4 tackles, 1 assist) had a young players’ game - he made some mistakes and made some great plays. His mistakes tended to be from trying to do too much, but he played very well overall. Perrish Cox (no tackles) had some good plays and an excellent INT; he’s struggled in his attempt to change to nickelback, which is a new position for him.  Despite his legal struggles, there’s no question that he’s a talented player - his interception showed that - but Denver can’t count on him being around all season, to be real about it. Vaughn has taken more naturally to the nickel position and as a result he has been getting reps with the first-team nickel package, the second-team base defense (left cornerback), the second-team nickel package and all of the special-teams units, in one role or another. He’s also the No. 2 kickoff returner behind Eric Decker, and looks to have a roster slot locked up in a defensive backfield that’s going to be tough to make.

Increasingly, Kyle McCarthy (3 solo tackles, 1 sack) looks like he could be locking up one of his own. McCarthy played HS ball at Cardinal Mooney High in Youngstown, Ohio, so he’s got an insight into growing up with the game, from that Hall of Fame town perspective. He then made it onto Notre Dame’s squad, playing safety behind and along with David Bruton, who’s likely to have a roster slot of his own nailed with his ST play. Kyle is ahead of Bruton and behind Brian Dawkins according to the initial depth chart. It doesn’t surprise the UDFA’s high school coach, P.J. Flecko:

Kyle has played for Notre Dame and is now a Denver Bronco, so his athletic ability speaks for himself, but what really separates him from other players is his determination. His determination and dedication have taken him a long way. Kyle is the type of person that the more you tell him he can't do something, the more he's going to do it.

There weren’t a lot of analysis articles that suggested that McCarthy would make the team given the selection of Quinton Carter (3 tackles, 1 assist) and Rahim Moore (no stats), but right now it appears likely that Kyle makes the squad and plays STs and some backup SS. Darcel McBath (1 assist) is being pushed aside by this, and could be fighting for his early professional life.

You can’t just have a defensive backfield of young guys, but Dawk, Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman all provide some veteran steadiness. UDFA Brandon Bing out of Rutgers is being given a few plays to see where he is right now and is also getting some time on the return teams, both punts and kickoffs. He’s got 4.28 speed in the short shuttle, was timed below 4.3 in the 40 in college (4.41 and 4.44 at Combine) and had a 6.90 at Combine in the three-cone drill, so he’s fast and potentially handles changes of direction well (anything below 7.00 in the three-cone is excellent). He’s got a tough road to get a roster slot, although he’s likely to make the PS. CB Chris Harris started all 12 games of his junior and senior seasons at the University of Kansas, and there was a mention in the Denver Post of him having the size and power to move to safety if needed, even though he was listed at 5’10” and 190 lb at the team's official site (I kept finding him at 6’0” on Scout.com and some other predraft sites, 5’10” on others). Safety isn’t much less crowded than CB, so I’d consider him a PS player or a camp cut.

Where might this leave us? Simple enough - I won’t be paying a lot of attention to who’s second- and who’s third-string in some areas - Bruton, for example, is one of our top ST players and could be another Keith Burns-type - but I think that right now it looks to play out like this. Keep in mind - it’s training camp, and anyone can get hot, lose their focus or get injured, so it could change in a heartbeat.

Cornerback

  1. Champ Bailey - You had doubts?
  2. Andre' Goodman - It looks as though his veteran skills in coverage will be more important than his tendency to arm tackle.
  3. Cassius Vaughn - He’s doing all the things that a UDFA needs to do to get noticed, given a chance and making the starting nickel team. It started with that TD return against SD to close out last season, then continued with consistently excellent play, not making the same errors repeatedly and cheerfully doing anything the coaches want him to, from playing on all STs to playing first-string nickel (and backup LCB) and to second-unit RCB. That’s a lot of responsibility for a young guy. Good luck to him.
  4. Syd’Quan Thompson
  5. I think this is going to be a choice between Brandon Bing, Chris Harris and Perrish Cox.

The looming spectre of Cox’s legal quandary has to be weighing in on this decision. Roger Goodell will weigh in when a verdict is reached, and that potential suspension time has to play into this too. Bing has a potential place as a returner - he’s fast and he’s shifty. Harris has been talked about as a potential CB/Saf, which might play in his favor. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see Nate Jones, his 6 tackles in the Dallas Game notwithstanding, as making the team. I just saw him getting beaten too many times last year. He could have one last really good season, but I hate to hang my hat on that hope - I just didn’t like his performance. Nice guy, but... Some teams keep 6 CBs - that leaves the same 4, but could give 2 more a chance. Five’s more likely, though.

Safety

  1. Brian Dawkins - You even have to ask why?
  2. Rahim Moore - The kid just keeps looking better.
  3. David Bruton - You don’t give up your best ST player without a very pressing reason
  4. Kyle McCarthy - I bet you saw this coming....
  5. Quinton Carter - You have to love a guy that dukes it out in camp against OT Herb Taylor, who’s got him by 75, 80 lb. And, Taylor’s second string, so the coaches don’t get mad at you....

It’s been a long, long time since I looked at a Broncos roster for the defensive backfield and liked - really liked - what I saw. If you’ve got a lot of youth, you’re going to get mistakes that will make you pull your hair out - if it’s still there by now, of course. If the youth is winning their positions due to playing very well, as this bunch is, you’ll also get the ‘get up and cheer’ moments, and they’re pretty sweet too. This is a group that will probably get increasingly hard to make in the coming years, and I haven’t felt that about a defensive backfield for quite a spell.

And hey, Matt - kickers make enough. Take a cab - we need you out there healthy. Go Broncos!

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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