ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Defensive backs Chris Harris and Quinton Carter both faced a great deal of pressure as rookies.
The cornerback and safety, respectively, shared a secondary with veteran cornerback Champ Bailey and former Broncos safety Brian Dawkins, who recently retired after 16 NFL seasons.
"I think any time you're dealing with rookies, it's a level jump," Head Coach John Fox said. "They'd be the first to tell you that it's bigger, stronger and faster (in the NFL) and it takes a little while to get used to."
Dawkins, a nine-time Pro-Bowler, and Bailey anchored the defensive secondary, combining to tally 90 tackles for a Broncos D that allowed opponents to convert less than 34 percent of their third-down conversions a year ago.
Nevertheless, Harris and Carter made their presence felt as rookies.
In his first season as a pro, Harris, an undrafted free agent who played college ball at Kansas, picked off Carson Palmer during a Week 9 win over the Raiders, then helped Denver hold off the Vikings in a 35-32 win on Dec. 4, the first start of his professional career.
Then, during an unforgettable overtime upset of Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round of the AFC playoffs, Carter's second-quarter interception of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put the Broncos in prime position for a chip-shot Matt Prater field goal that pushed the Denver lead to 17-6.
Carter, a former Oklahoma Sooner, added another interception in the divisional playoff round against New England to cap a stellar rookie season in which he started 10 regular season games, plus two more in the postseason. Carter started all but one game from Oct. 23 until Jan. 14.
This offseason saw the Broncos make a number of significant changes to the defense.
A new defensive coordinator in Jack Del Rio. The retirement of a veteran star and established leader in Dawkins. The addition of a Super Bowl-proven corner in Tracy Porter and the signing of another vet in cornerback Drayton Florence, who started 96 games for the Chargers, Jaguars and Bills from 2004 to 2011.
But neither second-year player seems intimidated by the level of competition at either cornerback or safety. Instead, Carter and Harris will try to soak up as much information as possible from the newest additions to the Broncos' secondary.
"I think the group is pretty good," Del Rio said. "We've got a good group of vets that are doing their best to share some of the knowledge that they've gathered over the years. I think he does take some time -- most of the guys do -- but Drayton in particular, Champ, those guys have been really good about giving some insight to some of the younger players, helping them grow."
Fox said he feels confident in the strides that both Carter and Harris will be able to make as they develop into consistent contributors, especially after rookie seasons played without the benefit of OTAs or summer workouts.
"The second time around, their sophomore season, they feel way more comfortable," Fox said. "Again, you have to develop a pro body. This game is twice as long as the college game when you figure in the preseason as well as the playoffs. It takes a while. They are much further along and much more comfortable the second time around."