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Bryce Callahan is the Broncos’ “secret” hero of the Chargers game.

Drew Lock never gets his comeback without the veteran corner.

Last year’s running joke was Bryce Callahan didn’t really exist. A constant on the injury report until the bent screw in his foot finally landed him on Injured Reserve, Callahan’s first season in Denver was a lost one. The injury led John Elway to pushing a pay cut on the veteran corner in March, and the questions about his status hung over the secondary like Ja’Wuan James’ continues to haunt the offensive line.

Vic Fangio heard the noise. The Broncos’ head coach made a point to mention Callahan’s injury when he was asked about his corner’s performance against the Chargers.

“His quality of play has been really, really good, and we move him around. When Bouye got hurt, we took him out of the nickel position and left him at corner. He had to move from right corner to left corner. He plays the nickel for us when we can. He’s back there catching punts for us. I told him last night and again today that his interception was probably the best play in his career, and I’ve seen every play in his career. I’m not surprised by it. I’ve been with him his entire career. He was injured last year. He had a bent screw in his foot that kept him out. I’ve never had a screw in my foot, but if it’s bent, I don’t think it’s very comfortable. I know everybody was disappointed that we brought him in last year and he couldn’t play, but he was injured. I knew how he could play if he stayed healthy, and he’s proving that this year.”

There is little doubt the Broncos lose to L.A. if not for Bryce Callahan.

Callahan’s been one of rocks of this year’s defense, missing all of two snaps so far this season. As Fangio pointed out, his versatility has allowed the Broncos to adjust and thrive even as they juggled the third corner spot.

When Essang Bassey plays, Callahan kicks outside and plays cornerback. When A.J. Bouye or De’Vante Bausby have played, Callahan moves into the nickel to cover slot receivers when opponents use 11 personnel. It’s inside where he’s made the most noise, as his quickness, fluidity, and physicality make him the quintessential Fangio nickel.

While Callahan doesn’t have the kind of raw cumulative sack totals to suggest he’s a good blitzer, the way Fangio’s leaned on him to bring extra heat has been an underrated part of the defensive identity. The Broncos won’t hesitate to bring Alexander Johnson, Justin Simmons, Josey Jewell, or Bryce Callahan and it forces opposing passers to account for them before the snap.

Pressure by Callahan forces Herbert to dump this early.

The play above came on 1st and 10 with the Chargers driving after a Broncos’ 3 and out. L.A. has two receivers to the left with a tight end and Keenan Allen on the backside. On the snap Joshua Kelley moves like he’s going to block the edge while the line comes out like they’re getting ready to block downfield: a key sign that LA is trying to set up a screen.

Instead Callahan gets upfield so fast Herbert has to throw the ball into the dirt behind his receivers to avoid an intentional grounding penalty.

The best play of Bryce Callahan’s NFL career.

The blitz is fun and all, but what stands out most about Callahan is his play in coverage. While his size leaves him at a disadvantage against some assignments, he has no fear. It stood out most when he made the play to bail out Drew Lock and give the Broncos’ offense new life.

Following Lock’s interception, the Broncos’ defense is defending a short field down 24-10. The run defense holds up their end of the bargain, bottling Justin Jackson up on two carries for just five yards. L.A. dials up a killshot for third down: a slot fade to Williams in the endzone. Instead the 5’9 Callahan makes the play to beat the 6’5 Williams, something neither Bouye or Ojemudia did when isolated on the 2017 7th overall pick.

The joke’s over: Not only does Bryce Callahan exist, he’s a crucial member of the Broncos.

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