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'The sky's the limit for him': How Pat Surtain II can grow even further after an All-Pro season


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As far as accolades go, Pat Surtain II didn't miss out on much in 2022.

In just his second NFL season, the former ninth-overall pick earned a Pro Bowl selection, Associated Press and NFL Players Association first-team All-Pro honors and All-NFL and All-AFC distinctions from the Pro Football Writers of America.

And yet, his position coach said recently, there's still room for Surtain to grow.

"I think he can improve a lot more," Defensive Backs Coach Christian Parker said Wednesday. "I think just based off what God's given him from the physical standpoint, his mental ability and his mental focus, I think the sky's the limit for him. … As well as he's done these first two years, I think he has a lot more he can get out of himself."

While it would be easy for Surtain to maintain his play after such an excellent season, that methodology doesn't jibe with his mindset. Instead, the goal is nothing short of immaculate play.

"I'm just focused on perfecting my craft," Surtain said on June 1, "focused on what I need to do and just be able to work toward team success and do what's best for the team."

And after such an impressive season, Surtain will have to deal with not only heightened expectations but opposing players now targeting him as someone who can be seen as a measuring stick. If they can make a play against Surtain, that would establish their caliber of play, as well.

"If anything, I think he understands that he has a target on his back," Parker said. "So each week, people are going to expect him to give something up or to fail. So I think that actually drives him a little harder. And I think Pat is the rare instance of … he was the number one corner coming out of high school, his dad's an All-Pro player, he was the second corner taken in the draft. He's used to being in that position and having people going for him. So I think he's been able to keep a level head throughout everything and continue to work hard and earn everything he's gotten."

As Surtain continues to excel, though, teams may avoid throwing the ball his way. How he works to continue to make an impact in spite of that will be another test, as star cornerbacks like Champ Bailey before him learned.

"You've just got to just create plays your own way," Surtain said. "Even if the ball's not coming to you, you can still make an impact by running to the ball, causing strip fumbles. Just locking down your side of the field. That's as big of an impact as you not having a turnover. I just think that just doing that, helping the defense out, that's what I'm looking to take my game toward."

Through the early stages of the transition and after watching Surtain's game tape, new Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph has come away impressed.

"He's special," Joseph said Wednesday. "I've watched him play in a lot of games, and he's special. He's a prototype when it comes to height, weight, arm length and all those things. His special trait is his intelligence. He's a very, very smart player. He understands the game, and he works at the game on a daily basis. When you combine that part with his physical traits, it's unique. He's coachable, and he wants to get better every single day. He's definitely a special player."

Sean Payton has seen the same things from Surtain, and as an offensive-minded head coach, he knows just how valuable that kind of player can be.

"He's long and he's built [as a] prototype for what you're looking for in that position," Payton said on June 1. "He's got great makeup, he's tough, he's smart and the ball finds him. He's got good ball skills. … I mentioned the physical [traits], and I mentioned mental [traits].

"All those things come together and then you get an elite player, and at corner those are hard to find."

With even better play on the field in his third season, Surtain probably hopes to continue to build his reputation as one of the league's elite players or to be its best cornerback. But his goals go beyond just the individual level.

"Just keep on being consistent, just keep on being focused on my craft, what I need to work on," Surtain said of his approach to the offseason. "But also carrying that on toward team success and helping the team win games. That's why I do it, at the end of the day."

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