ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos approach their Week 6 matchup with the Raiders, there's some degree of uncertainty at the cornerback position.
Ronald Darby has returned from injured reserve, and the Broncos are monitoring his week of practice before deciding whether he'll start — and who he could potentially replace in the team's base defense.
Yet while questions remain regarding which combination of Darby, Pat Surtain II and Kyle Fuller should be on the field for the Broncos' defense, there's seemingly no doubt about which player will line up in the slot for the Broncos.
Bryce Callahan, healthy again after a season-ending injury in 2020, has returned to his strong caliber of play, and he's been a key piece of the Broncos' secondary through five weeks.
"Really good," Head Coach Vic Fangio said of Callahan's play. "Even two games ago when he had to go in and play corner because of injury, he went out there seamlessly and broke up a pass in the end zone. Bryce is a damn good football player."
Callahan has struggled with injuries — he's appeared in just 15 of 37 potential games since joining the Broncos — but when he's on the field, few are better in the slot.
According to Pro Football Reference, Callahan has allowed a passer rating of 40.6 when targeted this season; Only three defensive backs have been better. His 2.8 yards allowed per target also ranks fourth among defensive backs, and opposing quarterbacks' 31.3 completion percentage against Callahan is third lowest in the league.
"Just being keyed into my technique, knowing what I've got to do on each play," Callahan said about what's allowed him to find success. "Diving into the playbook, so I can anticipate what they're going to do with certain looks. Just trying to be a professional and stay on top of my stuff."
Callahan has found success despite playing a different role than he had in 2020. A year ago, Callahan played the majority of his snaps at outside cornerback. This season, he's moved back inside to the slot, where he's taken nearly all his snaps.
"Just to get on the field," Callahan said of his mentality entering the year. "Wherever I'm [the] best fit, I'll play. … If I'm the best nickel, I'll play nickel. And vice-versa at corner."
On Sunday against the Raiders, Callahan could find himself involved in one of the game's most critical matchups. Las Vegas wide receiver Hunter Renfrow ranks third on the team in receiving yards, and he has 13 catches for first downs this season.
"Really quick, really elusive, great instincts for football [and] tough to tackle after he catches it," Fangio said Thursday. "He's really one of the top slots in the league."
If Callahan can limit Renfrow — particularly after the catch — it could help give the Broncos the edge the team needs. And after a couple of injury-plagued seasons, Callahan is currently playing at the high level necessary to do just that.
"He's stayed the course and he's moving really well right now — playing well," said Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell of Callahan's ability to fight though the adversity of the last few seasons. "It's really just the kind of kid he is. He's a real consistent person."
Through five games, Callahan has yet to allow a touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus. Denver undoubtedly hopes that sort of consistency continues.
'WE JUST HAVE TO WIN'
After a two-game losing streak, Von Miller said he knows the importance of bouncing back against the Raiders. And while his proclamations ahead of games against the Ravens and Steelers may have been premature, in retrospect, he said the team must respond in a rivalry game.
"We just have to win," Miller said. "I've got to re-think my approach in how I label some of these games. Maybe labeling the Ravens game a playoff game was too early for our team. Maybe some of the things that I said about the Pittsburgh Steelers and the type of game that we needed to play, maybe it was too early. It's definitely not too early for the Raiders. We've got to go out and play well from start to finish. This is a huge game for us."
Miller said he feels the Broncos could have won both games during the team's two-game skid, but he knows the team must take advantage of its opportunities.
"There are so many plays for everybody and so many more plays that we left out there," Miller said. "We've got to start to make those plays to come out with a win."