The primary responsibility of the cornerback is to cover wide receivers and allow the pass rush to reach the quarterback. However, it isn't always that simple. There are blitzes and zone coverages mixed in. They also must be able to provide run support during rushing plays. Fortunately, for us, the Denver Broncos cover the pass better than most of the NFL. In 2009, the Denver Broncos allowed the third fewest passing yards in the NFL. A lot of that success can certainly be attributed to the cornerback position, anchored by veterans Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman.
The cornerback position hasn't always been a strength of the Broncos, though. The cornerback position used to be an area of weakness for the Denver Broncos. In the 2003 and 2004 playoffs, the Broncos were beaten handily by Peyton Manning and the Colts offense, largely because of the lack of depth at the cornerback position. The Colts used the spread offense to expose the holes in the Bronco depth chart, which left us scrambling for solutions. We all thought we had found our answer in 2005 with Darrent Williams and, unfortunately, he was taken from us much too early (R.I.P. DWill). The Broncos continued looking to fill the void at the corner position. I believe we finally found a solution with Bailey and Goodman but the goal going forward is to maintain that level of success for years to come. We'll take a look at each of our cornerbacks and see what's in store at this position in 2010.
Let's start our assessment with a future Hall of Famer.
Champ Bailey has recorded a lot of stats in his day. At Charlton County High School in Folkston, Georgia, Champ Bailey was an outstanding football player. During his four years of high school, Champ rushed for 3,573 yards with 58 touchdowns, threw for 1,211 yards with 10 touchdowns, and 5,855 career total yards with 394 total points. Recorded 79.5 career tackles, eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries. That's quite a stat sheet. He was highly recruited across the nation, but decided to take his talents to the University of Georgia.
In college, he continued being a weapon all over the field. He played in all three phases of the game (offense, defense and special teams). During his final year at Georgia, as a junior, he recorded 52 tackles (4 for loss), 3 INTs, 7 passes defensed, 47 receptions for 744 yards (15.8 ypc), 5 TDs, 84 yards rushing on 16 carries, 12 kickoff returns for 261 yards and 4 punt returns for 49 yards. He averaged 103.5 all-purpose yards per game and logged 957 plays (547 defense, 301 offense and 109 special teams). It's also noteworthy that Champ Bailey once participated in a career-best 119 plays (62 on defense, 49 on offense and 8 on special teams) in a game against Auburn. When asked about the game, Champ said "I was just doing my job, whatever I could do to help the team. To me, it wasn't that big a thing."
That certainly sounds like something Champ Bailey would say, doesn't it?
After his junior year, Champ Bailey entered the NFL Draft and was drafted 7th overall by the Washington Redskins in the 1999 draft. While in Washington, he made his presence known and became one of the league's best defensive players. Although he was surrounded by a relatively inconsistent cast of characters, he still managed to record 177 tackles, 18 interceptions, 40 passes defensed and 2 forced fumbles in his 5 years as a Redskin.
He was traded to the Denver Broncos in exchange for Clinton Portis. Since becoming a Bronco, Champ has solidified the number 1 corner back position. Although he has suffered injuries to his calf, hamstring, shoulder, ankle, quadricep and groin, he was still able to amass 373 tackles, 28 interceptions, and 88 passes defensed in his 6 years as a Bronco. He was placed on 6 Pro Bowl rosters (if it weren't for his 2008 injury) during his 6 years as a Bronco and he was also chosen to be a part of the Denver Broncos 50th Anniversary team.
The biggest talk of the offseason has been Champ's contract. In 2004, he signed a 7 year deal worth $63 million dollars. That means his contract will expire in 2011. While Champ would like negotiations to begin right now, it doesn't appear that will happen. The Broncos haven't issued a statement, to this point, although it seems that the Broncos are going to wait until there are fewer variables at work in the CBA situation. Nobody knows if there will even be football next year, so it's understandable that a moratorium has been placed on extension talks. Although, the Broncos could hurt their chances to retain Champ if they wait until next year to arrange a deal. It's going to be interesting to see what happens in this situation. I, for one, certainly hope that Champ will be a Bronco until he retires.
What we do know, for a fact, is that Champ Bailey is going to be a Denver Bronco in 2010 and he is going to continue to play at an exceptional level. Given his recent history, the odds are pretty good that he'll make another Pro Bowl, as well.
Andre Goodman has had quite a journey before becoming a Bronco. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina where he was successful as a high school wide receiver and defensive back. Oh yeah, and he ran a 10.5 second 100 meter dash on the track team (4.36 40 time). Speed has never been an issue for Andre. He was ranked the 20th best prospect in the state of South Carolina and was recruited by the South Carolina Gamecocks.
In college, he didn't line up at receiver, but he was converted to free safety. Halfway through his junior year, he was converted to cornerback. In his senior year, he had 86 tackles, 4 interceptions and 20 pass deflections as a senior with the Gamecocks. In 2002, he was drafted in the third round by the Lions. In his first year, he broke his thumb. In his second year, he dislocated his shoulder. Then he had a thigh injury in his third year, signed with Miami as an unrestricted free agent and filled in for an injured Travis Daniels to finish out his fourth pro season. The following season (2007), he injured his left shoulder again and went in for arthroscopic surgery. It seems to have worked because in 2008, he enjoyed his first 16 game season while recording 33 tackles and 5 interceptions.
The rest, they say, is history. Andre Goodman is going into his second season with the Denver Broncos. In 2009, he had his best season, to date, with 40 tackles and his second 5 INT season in a row. It seems that Goodman is getting better with age. If he continues to stay healthy, we can absolutely expect another solid season out of Andre Goodman in 2010.
Alphonso Smith owns a lot of records. As far as NCAA records go, he is number one on the list in both interceptions and interceptions for TDs. He is also 7th on the all time list in interception yards, and third on the list for interceptions per game. On those numbers, alone, he seems like a spectacular player. Unfortunately, he is linked with a draft day trade that really upset some Broncos fans. The Broncos traded a 1st round draft pick for a 2nd round draft pick so they could get an opportunity to take Smith. Let's not allow that trade to cloud our judgement of Alphonso Smith.
Alphonso Smith has instincts that served him well at the college level. In the pros, things are a little faster and his technique needs to be more refined. Before you get up in arms about that, keep in mind that most corners hear that after their rookie season. The corner back position is one of the most difficult transitions from college to the NFL. I don't think we need to give up on him, right now. He has had an excellent offseason, allegedly picking off a pass every day of the final minicamp. Champ Bailey said in June, "He's grown a lot. I think he understands what we expect from him." Smith said, "I'm just trying to take as many reps as I can to get better as a nickel player and a cornerback and to help the defense." I expect him to make his presence known in 2010 with much better production than last year.
Perrish Cox grew up in Waco, Texas, and attended University High School. As a senior in high school, he recorded 27 tackles, 9 interceptions along with 47 receptions for 670 yards and 12 touchdowns. Scout.com listed him as a national top 100 player and Rivals.com listed him as the number 8 corner in the nation. Not too shabby.
He transitioned to Oklahoma State and, as a true freshman, became the first player since Barry Sanders to return the open a season with a kickoff return for a touchdown. During his 4 years at OSU, he recorded 130 tackles and 10 interceptions. He also had 60 punt returns for 694 yards and 2 touchdowns and 117 kick returns for 2804 yards and 4 touchdowns. He was named returner of the year in 2008 and currently holds the OSU and Big 12 (now the Big 10 after the realignment, but that's a whole other story) record for career kickoff return touchdowns with 4.
Cox was expected to go as high as the 1st round by most draft analysts and no lower than the 3rd round. Perrish Cox was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 5th round (137th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft largely because of his unexpectedly slow 40-yard dash time (4.58 seconds). As of June 9th, Perrish Cox is signed and ready to go for training camp.
Some argued that the reason Perrish Cox plummeted to the 5th round was his suspension from the Cotton Bowl. Cox wrote on his facebook page that he was 30 minutes late and violated the team's curfew. Cox said, "(The suspension) hurt me in a great way. I was told I was supposed to go higher than I did. The Cotton Bowl was a mistake on my part. It's something I learned from and want to put in my past." Coach McDaniels discussed the pick by saying, "There was no hesitation on our part at this point (in the draft). He's admitted he's made some mistakes. I go back to... 'Is this a character issue or is this a guy who has made a few wrong decisions?' We think it is (the latter; we spent some time with Perrish at his pro day and at the combine."
I am really excited about Perrish Cox. He seems to be making a big impact during the offseason. I'm really excited by Josh McDaniels' quote on June 12th.
I think he goes about his business every day. He's out there working hard. He's here early and stays late. He's trying to find a role in the kicking game as well as competing at both sides at corner. He hasn't disappointed us in terms of what we thought we were getting.
I expect Perrish Cox to make this team. His versatility as both a corner and a punt/kick returner make him very appealing to Josh McDaniels. Also, his size certainly helps, as well. Currently, the Broncos only have two corners that are 6 foot tall, Champ Bailey and Perrish Cox. I'm really excited about Perrish Cox and I think he will be a solid backup corner, at least. If he develops into the return role, taking the place of Eddie Royal, that will be the cherry on top.
Nate Jones played running back and defensive back at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. As a senior, he was a first-team all-state selection, rushing for 2,474 yards and 36 touchdowns along with 6 interceptoins.
Nate Jones played college ball at Rutgers, where he was a four year letterman. He finished his career with 219 tackles, 5 interceptions, 18 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. He also blocked three kicks and returned 82 kickoffs for 3 touchdowns.
He was then drafted in the seventh round by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2004 Draft. He played in all 16 games in his rookie year while recording 31 tackles and a sack. In 2005, he continued his role as a backup and notched 2 tackles on defense with 12 on special teams. In 2006, he was inactive for the first 12 games, but in the final four he recorded 8 tackles on defense and 3 on special teams. In 2007, he was inactive for one game and played as a backup in 15. He recorded 17 tackles, a sack and 2 forced fumbles on defense and 9 tackles, 6 kickoff returns for a 20.4 yard average on special teams.
After the 2007 season, Nate Jones became a free agent and signed a two-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. The obvious connection is Bill Parcells, who drafted Jones as the head coach of the Cowboys in 2004. In 2009, the Dolphins used Jones much more extensively than he was used as a Cowboy. He was lined up in nickel packages and often covered the slot receiver. He recorded a career-high 45 tackles. From reports I've read, he did a great job of playing nickel corner, last year, but the reason he was cut is likely because of how Wes Welker shredded his coverage twice last year to the tune of 19 receptions for 251 yards. Let's face it, though... not many people in the NFL are going to be able to cover Wes Welker. Also, if you assume he made the tackle on most of those Welker receptions, you could say that Welker was almost half of his receptions allowed and that was only in two games. That has to count for a moral victory, at least.
In Denver, Nate Jones has a really good chance to make the 2010 Broncos Roster and start as a nickel corner, especially if our young guys (Alphonso Smith and Perrish Cox) struggle. I don't anticipate that happening, but I think his experience with the position will be enough to keep him around. The Broncos have been in need of a guy to cover the And fortunately for him, he won't have to face Wes Welker... unless we see the Patriots in the Playoffs. Right?
Tony Carter grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and was ranked by Rivals.com as the nation's 2nd best corner as a senior in high school. As a junior, he made the state finals in the 110 meter hurdles. He was one of the fastest football players in the state of Florida with a 4.30 40-yard dash time. As a senior, he had 43 tackles, 9 interceptions on defense and 2 blocked kicks on special teams. He also scored 5 touchdowns while splitting time on offense as a quarterback and wide receiver. Tony decided to attend Florida State over Tennessee and North Carolina.
While at Florida State, Tony Carter started in all 50 career games while recording 139 tackles, 9 interceptions and 26 pass breakups. He was the first player in FSU history to return a blocked extra point and blocked field goal for scores in the same game. Going into the 2009 draft, Carter was just looking to be given a chance. His size really hindered his draft stock, but the broncos brought him aboard as an unrestricted college free agent.
He spent the first 14 weeks of the 2009 season on the practice squad and was called up to play against Oakland. Last year, Alphonso Smith, Jack Williams, Ty Law, Josh Barrett and Tony Carter were all used in the nickel spot. Of those names, only Alphonso Smith, Josh Barrett (safety) and Tony Carter remain. That has to speak for something. Obviously, Josh McDaniels thinks that Tony Carter has more to bring to the table than Jack Williams and Ty Law, at least.
He will be given another shot at earning his roster spot in Training Camp 2010. He has a good chance of making the team, as long as he continues to show Coach McDaniels that he is taking positive steps and making steady progress towards becoming a solid NFL player.
Syd'Quan Thompson was the Broncos 7th round pick (225 overall). As a high school senior, he was rated the number 11 corner in the nation. He recorded 70 tackles and 2 interceptions on defense and also rushed for 1,136 yards and 13 touchdowns on offense before deciding to become a California Golden Bear. While at college, he started all 52 games after being redshirted in 2005.
In 2009, he was on the watch list for the Lott Trophy, which is awarded to the nation's top defensive player with strong character. Leading up to the 2009 season, The NFL Draft Scout wrote, "His straight-line speed, agility, reliable open-field tackling and natural return skills would be earning significantly more attention from the national media if he played in the Big Ten or SEC. He finished his career as Cal's all-time leader in pass breakups with 36, amassed 257 tackles, 7 INTs returned for 204 yards, 43 passes defensed and 2 sacks.
If he wants to make the team, he'll have to really step up in training camp and show he can be a reliable backup.
Cassius Vaughn grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and was the number 10 ranked player coming out of high school. At Ole Miss, he played in all 50 games. In his senior year, he tied for 7th in the SEC in passes defended with 13. He notched 2 interceptions and ranked fifth on his team with 56 (44 solo) and 3.5 tackles for loss.
Cassius Vaughn is a 2009 undrafted rookie for the Broncos and he'll have his work cut out for him if he wants to make this team in the fall. He is a long shot.
There is no change in our number 1 and 2 corner backs from last year. Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman should both make the team and be outstanding starters, once again. 2010 should be another season where the Broncos are stout against the pass. Champ and Goodman are an excellent combination.
Behind that, things could look a little bit different. I expect 5 or 6 corners to make the 53 man roster. Both Alphonso Smith and Perrish Cox should make the team. I'm excited about Smith and Cox in 2010, though. Word from OTAs was that they were putting on quite a show. I don't think they'll hide under a rock in training camp and get cut from this team. On the contrary, I think we'll see them quite a bit in the regular season making plays and earning some NFL tenure.
The real training camp competition is going to come for spots 5 and 6. We'll have Nate Jones, Tony Carter, Syd'Quan Thompson, and Cassius Vaughn. Keeping 5 is a conservative number for corners, but 6 could be kept if McDaniels feels there is really good depth at the position. At this point, I think Nate Jones has a grasp of the 5th roster spot, based on his previous history on special teams with the Cowboys and Dolphins. Tony Carter and Syd'Quan Thompson are in a similar situation from the standpoint that they are both young guys trying to unseat a veteran, Nate Jones. Whether or not they can do it remains to be seen. If one of them really stands out and shows excellent skills, the Broncos would likely keep 6 corners to accommodate for this. Keep in mind that the top of the depth chart is aging and both have a history of injury, so the Broncos depth at corner needs to be a priority. Knock on wood that everyone stays healthy, though.
Overall, the 2010 Bronco corner backs should be an exciting bunch to watch. Now that you've read more about them, what do you think about the corner back position?