ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In 2021, perhaps no player on the Broncos made the most of limited opportunities as much as rookie safety Caden Sterns.
As a fifth-round pick, Sterns appeared in 15 games and started two, playing largely as defensive back in dime (six defensive backs) formations. When he was on the field, Sterns stuffed the stat sheet with two interceptions, five passes defensed, two sacks and 28 total tackles.
With a promising first year under his belt, Sterns seems set to continue to carve out a role in a new defense, but he's hesitant to set any firm goals so early in the offseason, he told DenverBroncos.com on Tuesday.
"Just to get better from last year," Sterns said. "I can't really have any goals. I don't know what my role looks like right now, so we'll see and we'll develop some goals as the time comes on and we get closer to the season. But again, [my goal is] just to keep steadily improving and become a better player."
Following the Broncos' January coaching change, there will be an adjustment to be made. However, after two days of practice during voluntary veteran minicamp, Sterns said it doesn't appear to shake the foundation of what he learned during the previous year, and Defensive Backs Coach Christian Parker retaining his position will smooth the transition.
"Definitely," Sterns said of whether he feels the benefit of continuing to work with Parker. "Just because he knows where we're coming from, because he was here last year, knowing what the differences are. So it's good to have him with us as well as getting adjusted to the new system."
After his impressive rookie season with interceptions off Dak Prescott and Zach Wilson and two sacks on Lamar Jackson, Sterns' challenge now will be to build consistency as he works his way in on defense.
"Again, just by getting comfortable with the system and comfortable with the guys that we're playing with," Sterns said of how he aims to do that. "We have new faces, so [I'm] just getting familiar with them and how they communicate. And again with the system, just getting comfortable to slow the game down and stuff like that. So I think being able to play multiple roles last year — playing dime — it allowed me to kind of understand how our whole defense works. So it's definitely slowing down for me."
In Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons, Sterns will continue to have two mentors around him that he can lean upon for advice as he continues to grow.
"I give them a lot of credit, whether they know it or not," Sterns said. "I just pick up on everything that they do and watch how they communicate and how they play. So I'm just taking stuff from that, and to have that veteran presence and that leadership presence, it just trickles down in the secondary and the defense, as well as the team."
KEEPING AN EYE ON THE DRAFT
Even though he was drafted by the Broncos almost a year ago, Sterns will still be somewhat preoccupied with the draft toward the end of the week. As his brother Jerreth works his way through his own draft process, Caden said he'll be more anxious watching this draft than his own.
Jerreth, who was a standout receiver at Western Kentucky, is largely being projected as a late Day 3 pick by mock draftniks — which is somewhat surprising, considering how astronomical his stats at WKU were. In 2021, he caught 150 passes for 1,902 yards and 17 touchdowns — all of which ranked first in FBS college football. According to WKU, he's just the third player to achieve that "receiving triple crown" distinction in FBS football since 2000. He was one of three receivers who earned second-team All-American honors from the Associated Press; the other two, Ohio State's Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, are widely projected to go in the first round in the upcoming draft.
"That's my brother, I love him and I know what type of player he is and I know how overlooked he's getting right now," Caden said. "I don't know if you looked at the numbers he put up. He had a triple crown in college football. … I'm really excited for him. I just think regardless of where he goes and how it plays out, he's that type of player that he's going to be around for a long time in the league."
And if that place in the league is somewhere else in the AFC West, well, Caden isn't quite sure how he'll feel about that just yet.
"I'm excited for him to see where he goes," Caden said. "Hopefully he doesn't end up somewhere in the West — actually, if he did end up in the West, it would be pretty fun to go against him. I'm just really excited for him and his future, because he's worked so hard. Deservingly so, I think he's going to do fairly well in the league."