MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — For weeks, Broncos players and coaches have raved about rookie Pat Surtain II's rare talent and play-making ability.
In his first NFL game action, Surtain showed he was as good as advertised.
The ninth-overall pick played just a handful of snaps during the Broncos' 33-6 win over the Vikings, but the cornerback left an indelible impact in his limited action.
And if Surtain's performance Saturday is a sign of things to come, he's set to live up to the expectations of being a top-10 pick.
"He played well, obviously," Head Coach Vic Fangio said after the game. "I expect a lot out of him. We only played him at corner today. We didn't play him inside at all. I wanted him to just play one position today. … They didn't play their starting quarterback. That was one big advantage for us. We played our two starting quarterbacks. They didn't. But still, you've got to go out there and make the plays, and he did it."
Despite not playing any of their starting defenders or nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan, the Broncos still found tremendous success against the pass.
Surtain's defensive brilliance, in particular, was evident on two plays against the Vikings, as he read a third-down slant and broke quickly on the ball to record his first career pass breakup. On the next series, Surtain did one better.
On third-and-4 from the Minnesota 23-yard line, Vikings reserve quarterback Jake Browning looked to his right and tried to find Ihmir Smith-Marsette on a comeback route along the sideline. The only issue? Surtain ran the route faster — and better — as he picked off Browning and returned the interception 30 yards for the score.
"I felt it coming," Surtain said. "They ran the same route concept the drive before, so I was expecting it. I just made a play on the ball."
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater explained the rookie's performance in no uncertain terms.
"PS2 — he don't play no games," Bridgewater said.
WILLIAMS DOESN'T DISAPPOINT IN DEBUT
Surtain wasn't the Broncos' only high draft pick to make an impact. Second-round pick Javonte Williams saw limited action, but he was effective in his start against the Vikings' defense.
The UNC product ripped off 11 yards on the Broncos' first offensive snap and then took off for 13 yards on the next play as he shed an arm tackle with a solid stiff arm.
"I like breaking tackles," Williams said. "That's something Coach Fangio told me before the game. … He was going to keep a [tally] of how many tackles I broke. So that was definitely something I tried to do during the game."
Williams got into the end zone later in the drive, but it was nullified by a holding penalty on Jerry Jeudy.
The second-rounder carried the ball one more time before exiting, and he finished the game with five carries for 29 yards.
"[I] was anxious to see him because you can look at running backs all you want in practice and they can do good and get better," Fangio said. "But ultimately the number one job of a running back is to be able to make people miss or break tackles. And he was able to do that. And you could only find that in a game. So I was really anxious to see him, and obviously he didn't disappoint."
HAMLER STACKS PRACTICES
Following the Broncos' first joint practice against the Vikings, Fangio stressed the need for wide receiver KJ Hamler to string good days together.
"He's definitely got the speed and quickness and the elusiveness that we liked when we drafted him," Fangio said Wednesday. "… He's got to stay [healthy] and put a clump of practices together because you can only get better by practicing. … Everybody needs practice. KJ needs a clump of practice that he's really not been able to have yet last year. He's had it right now. He's going, and hopefully he can keep it going."
Hamler seemed to do just that in the Twin Cities, as he caught a few passes on Wednesday, hauled in a deep touchdown on Thursday and then capped his week with a two-catch, 105-yard performance against the Vikings. His 80-yard touchdown catch on a deep throw from Lock seemed to be the exclamation point on a week that suggested Hamler's value to the offense.
"He had good practices here against Minnesota," Fangio said Saturday. "He had good practices prior to that. And there's the result, you know? I showed the entire team a play or two from practice where he ran some great routes that were really hard to cover for anybody. And it's validated here today with the touchdown. He's a fast, quick guy that's hard to cover. And hopefully we can keep him healthy and he can be a big part of our offense."
Hamler said he hadn't before received that sort of validation from Fangio.
"He was just giving me a little bit of credit on just good plays," Hamler said. "… He's never done that before, so it was pretty cool. But just got to do it in the game. Taking it from practice to the game is always the main goal."
With Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick not in the lineup on Saturday, Hamler had his chance to make an impact. He took full advantage.
- In his first game action, rookie safety Caden Sterns led the team with six tackles and made one of the bigger defensive plays of the game. On a fourth-and-goal from the Denver 2-yard line, Sterns showed great physicality and effort to knock the ball loose from Whop Philyor in the back of the end zone to force an incompletion. Instead of a sure touchdown, the Vikings turned the ball over on downs.
"I thought he played well," Fangio said. "Looked to me like he was active and in control of himself out there. I thought he took a little bit of a hair of a step back this week a little bit. I talked to him before the game about that, and he got back to what we had been seeing up to that point. And hopefully that will be a good lesson for him."
- Wide receiver Trinity Benson had a strong afternoon, as he caught a team-high four passes for 36 yards and two touchdowns. Benson also returned a punt and a kickoff.
"I don't want to be a one-hit wonder," Benson said. "I've got two games, I just want to continue to put on a good show."
- Outside linebackers Jonathon Cooper, Andre Mintze and Derrek Tuszka are all in the mix to earn a roster spot behind Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Malik Reed. All three players had three tackles on Saturday, but Cooper had a tackle for loss and Mintze recorded a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and a sack.