Skip to main content

Denver Broncos | News


Presented by

Broncos Camp Preview: Competition at cornerback, new faces at safety among top storylines for Denver's defensive backs


It's that time of year.

Broncos Training Camp powered by Ford is just a few weeks away, and is starting its annual look at the roster before the final leadup to the regular season begins.

Over the next several weeks, we'll turn our focus to each area of Denver's roster to get fans set for a pivotal training camp that will feature plenty of competition.

We begin with the Broncos' defensive back group.


The Broncos' secondary will look quite different than it did to start the 2023 season.

Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson lined up at safety in last year's Week 1 matchup against the Raiders, and Essang Bassey served as Denver's nickel cornerback.

All three players have since moved on, and — depending on the result of the No. 2 cornerback competition — the Broncos could feature as many as four new faces in their five-player nickel rotation.

Some of the potential starters in Denver's new-look secondary began to carve out roles in 2023, as P.J. Locke returned from injury to surge to a starting role. Ja'Quan McMillian, a former undrafted player out of East Carolina, also earned a key role as he repeatedly showed his playmaking ability after assuming nickel responsibilities in Week 4.

The one constant? All-Pro and Pro Bowler Pat Surtain II, who earned another slew of accolades in his third professional season.

At both cornerback and safety, the Broncos devoted resources to supplement a secondary that showed its potential and turnover-inducing tendencies in the latter part of the season. Denver's biggest free-agent signing may have been acquiring former Dolphins safety Brandon Jones, an ascending player with potential to play both near the line of scrimmage and in the deep part of the field.

The Broncos also re-signed Locke, drafted Missouri cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine in the fifth round and signed veteran cornerback Levi Wallace.

As training camp approaches, there should be plenty of intrigue at both safety and cornerback.

Recently, the Broncos' defensive backs posed for the camera at the team's annual media day.


Who emerges opposite Surtain?

One of the top battles across the Broncos' roster will likely come at the No. 2 cornerback spot, and training camp will help determine who lines up across from Surtain against the Seahawks.

Two recent draft picks — 2023 third-round pick Riley Moss and 2022 fourth-round pick Damarri Mathis — are among the players who saw a high volume of reps during the offseason, and they'll seemingly vie for the role. Moss saw limited defensive snaps late in 2023 after battling an injury early in his rookie year, while Mathis started 11 games as a rookie and six to begin the 2023 season before serving in a special teams capacity to end the year.

"With Riley, he is an exceptional athlete," Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph said in mid-June. "He makes it look easy. He's really smooth, he's mature, he's smart, he has great size and great ball skills. When you watch him play, it looks really easy and he's always in a comfortable position. Damarri, I've been impressed with his technique and eye placement. He has physical traits that most corners don't have. He has power, he has quickness, he has size. So his thing was just upping his football IQ, and he's done that. So it should be a good competition in the fall, in training camp. But obviously we need more than three corners — you need four, maybe five guys."

Wallace, a seventh-year veteran with 70 career starts, also figures to push Moss and Mathis for the role. Abrams-Draine and veteran Tremon Smith are also among the multitude of options at the cornerback position for Denver.

The competition for the job, however, will require more than the ability to demonstrate the necessary on-field traits. Playing opposite Surtain, the competitors must also show the mental strength to face a slew of targets from opposing quarterbacks.

"Obviously, Pat is one of the best corners in football, so if you're playing opposite of Pat, you're going to get most of the targets," Joseph said. "That's part of it. … So having a guy who is resilient, and who can work through adversity during games and kind of invite being attacked [is important]. It's kind of a good thing for a corner also because you can make a lot of plays that way also. It's my job schematically to kind of push the ball back to Pat. That's tough sometimes, but we can do it."


Brandon Jones

One of Denver's big free-agent splashes, Jones should have the chance in training camp to display the do-it-all playing style that appealed to the Broncos this offseason.

"I've always liked the player," General Manager George Paton said in March. "I like the makeup. He can play high and low. He has good range. If you watch the '21 tape, [former Dolphins head coach Brian] Flores used him as a blitzer. This guy is a really good blitzer. I think he had five sacks. I thought he was playing at an elite level before he tore the ACL in 2022. It was good to see him come back in Miami, but I like the range, I like the toughness, and I like his ability to blitz. I think it's a good piece for Vance."

Head Coach Sean Payton also identified Jones' positional flexibility in March, and the fifth-year player will look to build upon a 2023 season in which he posted two interceptions as he earned a starting job late in the year. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones allowed a 39.8 passer rating and zero touchdowns in 234 coverage snaps from Week 12 until the end of the season.

Jones acknowledged in May the "big shoes to fill" following Simmons' departure, but he said his focus is on putting forth his best effort and combining the elements of his game that he's shown in recent years.

"I know I'm going on my fifth year now, but I still attack every day like I'm a rookie," Jones said. "I have something to prove to myself, prove to my teammates. Whether it's practice, a game [or] lifting weights, I'm going full speed, and I'm trying to show guys this is what you have to do in order to get the success that you want to have."

Caden Sterns — in his return from injury — also figures to be a significant contributor, and second-year player JL Skinner will be among the other safeties competing for roles.

Related Content