ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Bryce Callahan's expectations for himself during the 2020 season aren't complicated.
"Ball out and stay healthy," Callahan told DenverBroncos.com on Tuesday.
Callahan joined the Broncos in 2019 as one of the team's top free-agent acquisitions, but his debut season was derailed in July when a teammate stepped on his foot during a training camp practice at Empower Field at Mile High. He wouldn't line up for another snap at the Broncos' home stadium all season, as he dealt with the effects of reaggravating a foot injury he originally suffered in 2018.
"When it first happened, I was kind of doubtful," Callahan said. "I was like, 'I don't know how I'm going to play with this.' Every step, I felt it. Being a DB and breaking a lot, you can't be thinking about an injury as you're trying to play a game. It was always in the back of my mind, but I wanted to try to push it and see if I could push through it for the team. But it just didn't work out that way."
Callahan underwent a non-surgical procedure to try to return to the field, but the Broncos eventually placed him on injured reserve and he underwent surgery to fix a bent screw in his foot.
The rehabilitation process — which kept him away from his teammates late in the season — proved mentally exhausting.
"It was very challenging — probably more mental than physical," Callahan said. "[It was] just like, 'Damn, I've got to do this all again, the same rehab? Is it going to get better this time?' It took a lot from me mentally to be like, 'Yeah, I can get better from this. I can progress from this injury and move forward from it.'"
The sixth-year player is at that point now as he prepares for a long-awaited debut in Denver. And aside from a brief illness — Head Coach Vic Fangio said it wasn't COVID-19 — that caused him to lose weight that he'll need to re-add in the coming weeks, the veteran cornerback said he's "feeling great."
"Like I told my coaches, my foot's feeling 100 percent," Callahan said. "I want to put that in the past. I've just got to gain a little bit of weight, and I'll be good to go — 100 percent — when we put on pads."
Callahan has already returned to the field for conditioning drills and walkthrough sessions, and Fangio said he'll work at both the outside cornerback and nickel cornerback positions ahead of the season. Callahan was borderline dominant in the slot while in Chicago, and he allowed just 0.69 yards per cover snap in the slot in 2018, which ranked second in the NFL. Teams generally avoided throwing at the quick, aggressive player, but he managed to record two interceptions and six passes defensed in his last season in Chicago.
"I feel pretty comfortable in both spots," Callahan said. "I'll do my best in both spots and let the coaches decide, but it's not like I'm nervous to play on the outside. I have played a couple games on the outside, and I felt comfortable in those games. I was able to make a couple plays. We'll see whatever's best for the team."
Callahan won't be the only new face in the Broncos' cornerback room. A.J. Bouye joined the team via a trade with Jacksonville, and third-round pick Michael Ojemudia could potentially push for playing time early in the season.
"I'm excited for the secondary," Callahan said. "We've got a lot of smart guys, good teammates. Not a lot of egos. We can all work together and communicate, and that's what we need with the defense. The better we can communicate and pass things off, the easier it will be for all of our jobs."
If Callahan can achieve his primary goal — to stay healthy and ball out — the Broncos' could improve upon their 11th-ranked passing defense from last season. And, in the process, he would prove that 2019 was merely a blip in an otherwise successful career.
"I'm very excited just to get out there and play again," Callahan said. "It's been a year and a quarter since I've been out there, so [I] just [can't wait] to get out there and prove to other people and to myself that I can still do the things that I was doing and even better."