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Chris Harris Jr. ready for No. 1 cornerback role

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The "next man up" philosophy often leads to the tumbling of roster dominoes. The No. 2 player at a position becomes the top dog. The third man becomes the No. 2. Lather, rinse, repeat down the depth chart.

So in the Broncos' cornerback room, everyone has a different job and a different spot since the March trade of Aqib Talib to the Los Angeles Rams.

It starts with Chris Harris Jr., who will see a different caliber of receiver now than he did before in a role that saw him line up on the outside in base packages and in the slot in nickel and dime alignments.

"I’ll be covering top receivers every week. The role is different," he said Friday. "With Aqib, we didn’t have to follow. We had two guys that played a lot of football and that have played a lot of top receivers around the league. 

"Now this year, I’ll be able to take on the top guy most of the time every week this year."

Harris has already proven his value through three Pro Bowl selections and an All-Pro nod in 2015, when the Broncos became the first team in NFL history to have two first-team All-Pro cornerbacks. Neither of those distinctions came his way last year.

“As soon as I didn’t get any of my accolades last year, we didn’t make the playoffs, it’s been personal all offseason," Harris said. "Now I’m at the position where—I think in OTAs, I’ve shown that I’m the real deal and that I’ve gotten better. 

"Every year I try to improve. That’s something that I’ve tried to do this year, and I think I did."

So did Bradley Roby, who heads into training camp as an every-down cornerback for the first time in his career.

"'Rob' put in work this offseason. I think he grew up this offseason. He kind of [took] that next step," Harris said. "You've got to take that next step, [to] come into your own.

"Now it's time for him to prove it on the field and be consistent. It's always about being consistent when you haven't started all 16 games, it's totally different than just playing [and] coming in on third downs. It's totally different. So he just has to be consistent every day, continue to work hard and just play with confidence."

Tramaine Brock is penciled in as the No. 3 cornerback, but the future of the room rests in some of its younger players, particularly 2017 third-round pick Brendan Langley, who committed himself to work in OTAs and extra sessions away from UCHealth Training Center with Harris and Roby.

So far, Langley has "improved a lot," Harris said.

Also helping Langley is new Defensive Backs Coach Greg Williams, who joined the staff in January.

"I think last year was just so fast for him. We had an older corners coach. It's hard when you have an older coach. It's hard to relate to [as] a player," Harris said. " So now we have a younger coach, and he's in his ear all the time. So I think he'll be way more prepared this year."

The boost provided by Williams is not limited to the younger cornerbacks.

"Whenever [most of the team is] doing special teams, [Williams] teaches me some new things, so I’m excited this year," he said. "especially to have that coach that’s going to definitely make sure I’m ready every week.”

Not that Harris needs the help to be ready, but a little more tutelage and a keen set of eyes could go a long way to making sure the Broncos don't lose a step without Talib.

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