ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In early July, ESPN released a series of articles ranking the best players at each position.
After a four-interception rookie year, Pat Surtain II was tabbed as the seventh-best cornerback in the league. But as the story noted, some had even stronger advocates; several high-ranked executives voted Surtain as the top cornerback in the entire league.
Better than Jalen Ramsey, better than Marshon Lattimore, better than Jaire Alexander.
For as good as Surtain looked en route to All-Rookie honors in 2021, that sort of praise seemed perhaps a tad premature.
In the early days of training camp, though, it appears more and more likely that Surtain will cement his place among the league's best players in 2022.
On Wednesday, Surtain recorded an end-zone pass breakup against Albert Okwuegbunam, and he posted another highlight play on Day 2. On a third-down pass, Surtain leapt into the air and swatted the ball out of Pro Bowl receiver Courtland Sutton’s hands.
"Surtain's a freak," tackle Garett Bolles said Thursday. "I'm just going to tell y'all that right now. If you don't know that, turn on the film. It speaks for itself. I don't know how you game-plan against a guy like that because he's just going to eat you alive. I'm grateful he's on my side."
Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett praised Surtain's range, speed and strength — and he said Surtain has looked more comfortable with the new elements of the Broncos' defensive scheme.
Surtain, while flattered by the ESPN praise, seems prepared to simply keep working.
"I always put high expectations for myself," Surtain said. "It's cool hearing it from those type of people, but at the end of the day I've got to lock in and focus on what I need to focus on. I can't worry about the offseason noise. I can't worry about rankings or none of that. I've got to focus on what I need to do at the end of the day."
Through two days, though, it's clear Surtain has already made progress from where he started a year ago.
"I definitely feel more comfortable and more confident out there," Surtain said. "I'm getting prepared and getting my mind ready each and every day. I definitely feel more confident and comfortable."
'GOOD ON GOOD'
There are various schools of thought for training camp practices. Some coaches have their first-team units go against the second- or third-team groups on the other side of the ball. Some coaches mix it up, with some periods of ones vs. ones and others with ones vs. twos.
The Broncos have just begun training camp, but Hackett has thus far limited Denver's team periods to starters vs. starters and reserves vs. reserves. It's a conscious choice, he said after Thursday's practice, to raise the level of competition.
"It's good on good, and we want to make each other better," Hackett said. "Watching [Bradley] Chubb go against Garett and Malik [Reed], all those guys — you always want everyone rolling. Then every now and then, you get to sprinkle those other guys in and see if they can step it up — whether that would be on offense or defense. It's about making the team better. You want everyone to compete together."
Hackett noted the approach can also help the coaches and front office get a more honest evaluation of players.
As a first-time head coach, Hackett must find a way to balance his game-day play-calling responsibilities with the other duties of a head coach.
Hackett said he'll likely reach out to Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, with whom he spent the last three seasons, for insight on how to handle the transition.
"We talk a lot — he's so dear to me," Hackett said. "He did so much for me, and I want to do it a lot like how he did it. I thought he did a fantastic job. I'll definitely talk with a couple of people I'm close with, and he will definitely be one of them."