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Mile High Morning: Damarri Mathis, Riley Moss among young players competing for increased roles at cornerback


The Lead

It takes a certain mindset to play across the defense from Pat Surtain II.

An All-Pro player, Surtain has made a habit of locking down opposing wide receivers and forcing quarterbacks to go elsewhere with the ball. For the other outside cornerback or the slot corner on Denver's defense, that means plenty of action.

"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," Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph said Wednesday. "That's part of it."

As a result, Joseph acknowledged that whoever fills the other roles on Denver's defense must be able to respond to adversity.

"So having a guy who is resilient, and who can work through adversity during games and kind of invite being attacked [is important]," Joseph said. "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."

The competition for the No. 2 cornerback role is just beginning, as Joseph said the spring is more about preparing for training camp.

"It's been [a] competition," Joseph said, "[but] I told the guys, it's tough to say that we're competing for jobs. It's more about learning the system, being your best in training camp. People competing for any job in football is based on having pads on, and those things, playing with pressure and having consequences. Spring ball is tough to gauge who is winning jobs, because it has no consequences. That's saved for training camp. So far it's been healthy [competition]. It's a young group, so the energy is high every single day, and that's a good thing early."

Damarri Mathis and Riley Moss — entering their third and second seasons, respectively — are among the players in the mix for a potential starting spot. Both showed their playmaking ability at various points of the offseason program with pass breakups on downfield throws.

"With Riley, he is an exceptional athlete," Joseph said. "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."

Mathis started 11 games as a rookie and the first six contests of 2023 before working in a reserve role for the remainder of the season. Moss, meanwhile, played primarily as a special teams contributor after a preseason injury impacted his preparation for his rookie season.

Entering 2024, however, one or both of the two players could find an increased role on Denver's defense.

"It's good to see both young guys grow," Joseph said.

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