After slow attrition grounded the No Fly Zone, the Denver Broncos desperately needed to add talent back into their secondary. So they added former Houston Texans defensive back, Kareem Jackson, who’s film I broke down a few weeks ago, and then capped it off by reuniting former Chicago Bears cornerback, Bryce Callahan, with his old coaching staff.
Today we’ll dive into his tape.
Under Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell’s tutelage, Callahan grew from an undrafted free agent to one of the best slot corners in the game over these last two years (sound familiar?). So bringing Bryce over to Denver to play for his old coach in the same system was an absolute no-brainer, and should get Broncos fans excited.
The other thing that should get fans excited, is Callahan actually shows a lot of the same traits on tape that make Chris Harris such a great slot corner, and defensive back.
When I sat down and popped on Callahan’s film, here is what I saw.
I feel like it’s a prerequisite when looking at a Fangio defender to start with tackling. If that’s a non-negotiable to coach Fangio, that’s the first thing you want to see these guys do. Callahan definitely fits his billing.
Whether it’s coming down and filling gaps in the run game, or sniffing out and making the stop, Callahan is not afraid to come down and stick his nose in there and make the play.
Slot corners are always close to the action, and at times are required to fit in the run game. Callahan has no problem with that, and even shows some blitzing chops from the slot as well.
One of the other things that immediately stands out when watching Callahan is his understanding of the defense. This is key, especially for a slot guy because you’re not on an island like you are at times on the outside.
Callahan understands where his help is, where it isn’t, and how his role fits into the overall coverage. He’s assignment sound, and does his job.
Take the play below, for example. Third and medium, and Callahan knows he has help inside. The offense is stacking receivers to give the underneath/slot receiver a free release off the line, and almost set a pick for him.
Callahan, understanding his help inside, jumps out on the outside route to prevent the offense from taking advantage of the wide side of the field, then trails the receiver inside where his help comes down.
One of the most difficult things about the slot is that receivers have a two-way go. Chris Harris has talked about this and said that one of his techniques is to take away one of those directions the receiver can go right from the snap with your positioning, essentially giving them the angle one way, and then play hard towards the other direction.
That’s exactly what Callahan does here. Hard jump outside, which forces the receiver inside right to Callahan’s help.
This next one is my favorite, and not only perfectly demonstrates Fangio’s scheme functioning like a well oiled machine.
Green Bay is in a 3x1 set and are going to run a sail concept. This is a classic call from a 3x1 set, and against zone coverage as it creates three levels to defend and can really stretch the zones to that side.
Fangio utilizes a lot of match zone coverages and is running that here. The safeties will actually rotate right before the snap into a bit of a cloud cover-3 look.
What the sail concept will attempt to do against cover-3 is to run the corner off with a deep route, suck the underneath defenders in with a flat, and drop it right in between them with the out or corner route. Or it’s designed to go where the defense isn’t, depending on how they play it.
Now this is technically a zone play, but that’s the beauty of match zone, is that it is kind of a mix between man and zone.
Callahan is going to play man for the first 10 yards of the slot receiver, but then as soon as he sees him cut to the outside where Fuller is sinking, he locates the outside receiver going deep, and breaks off to follow him underneath, knowing he has help over the top.
This combo is exactly where Rodgers wants to go with the ball, but he’s forced to hold the ball and check it down, which causes a holding penalty. Just a beautiful job of working seamlessly together to pass off routes and anticipate what the offense is wanting to do.
Later in the game, the cat and mouse game continues, and the Packers recognize how Chicago is playing that concept.
So they come out in a similar look, but throw in a wrinkle. This time they run a dagger concept on the outside, which just switches the outside receiver a dig, and the slot to push vertical.
Green Bay knows that Callahan is going to carry the slot for 10 yards before breaking off, so they attempt to run him deep, and throw the dig route underneath him, as the outside corner isn’t going to chase it inside and the linebacker is occupied with the flat.
What Callahan needs to do here is stop carrying the deep route and break off on the dig right here (above). Instead he carries him a little too far upfield and by the time he breaks on the dig route, it’s too late.
That was the first game of the season. Ten games later, the Bears played Sean McVay and the Rams offense. You better believe McVay watched the tape and noticed Callahan’s snafu from Week 1.
He comes out in the exact alignment that Green Bay used. 3x1 set, and runs the dagger concept with an underneath route to flood the zone.
Except, Callahan and his coaches had watched that on film as well, and this time he plays it perfectly.
Callahan carries the slot vertically, but keeps his eyes trained on that outside receiver and smoothly drops off his man right into the oncoming dig route forcing Goff to check the ball down, and not move the sticks.
Just a great example of Callahan’s smarts at the position as well as his film study and self scouting ability to correct an error from Week 1, and have it pay off in the Bears biggest game of the season in Week 14.
Parallel with his football IQ is his ability to recognize routes and play them in man coverage. Callahan’s ability to read and stick with out breaking routes from the slot is super impressive.
This one above is my favorite as he runs Marvin Jones’ route for him on a key third down, getting the pass break up.
Here is another one. The ball thrown behind leads to a pick for Callahan, but even if the ball was perfectly thrown, there isn’t a window here as he plays this perfectly.
This one above he actually does get the interception.
Now this is one he would like to have back at the catch point, but he again shows great anticipation and positioning on these out breaking routes.
And it’s not just out breaking routes that he shows good recognition. He nearly forces an interception here on the slot curl.
And shows Harris-like recovery to break on this slant, even when he was beat off the line.
I had to go back to 2017 to find a touchdown that Callahan gave up in coverage, and it was on a super clever route by Randall Cobb where he faked the classic slant/flat concept Green Bay runs all the time on the goal line, and caught Callahan anticipating the route.
That is literally the only touchdown I could find that he has given up in his coverage over these last two years.
Bryce Callahan's slot coverage statistics in 2017 pic.twitter.com/LT1O0JArhM— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 21, 2018
Bryce Callahan locked down the slot for the Bears in 2018 pic.twitter.com/FN3zfGfs89— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 15, 2019
I’m not just saying this because we’re in Denver and he’s joining the same team as Harris, but watching Callahan on tape, he really does remind me a lot of Chris Harris. They’re both tough and willing tacklers, possess high football IQ, and excel at anticipating routes and making the play from the slot.
Denver got a good one in Bryce Callahan. He is one of the few players in the slot that can come in for Chris Harris, and the secondary not experience a drop-off. Pair that with Harris moving outside and Kareem Jackson coming on board, and the Broncos secondary is on its way to reclaiming it’s former glory as one of the most lockdown units in the league.