Not having regular OTAs right now is a detriment to team chemistry, but not to football I.Q.
And just because the guys are doing room meetings by Zoom, doesn’t mean they get to slack off.
For cornerback A.J. Bouyé, who was traded to Denver from Jacksonville in March and has been learning a new defense away from coaches and teammates, the online meetings have been critical.
“The Zoom meetings have been going great, really,” Bouyé said, adding that he’s been in meetings with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, defensive backs coach Renaldo Hill, defensive assistant Chris Beake plus Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan. “We watch our separate little film, and then me and Coach Ed go and watch some of my stuff from Jacksonville.”
Bouyé says the most challenging part is getting down the terminology from the playbook.
“That is the first part. Just extra studying on my end,” he added. “And then to get turnovers, really that’s just going to come down to first developing the team chemistry. Knowing my job, knowing the other guys’ jobs and just vice versa. Just learning everything like that and when it presents itself with the opportunity, capitalize on it.”
Obviously capitalizing on it virtually is impossible but Peyton Manning would probably approve of the extra film study this scenario affords.
Also, there are tests.
“We get quizzed every day,” Bouyé said. “The coaches do a good job just testing us, making sure we’re knowing not only our responsibility but the responsibility of other positions - whether the corner on the other side knowing the front, knowing when our safeties are doing certain calls, what it’s going to get us in and what routes they expect and what routes are going to beat us.”
And that means Bouyé has a routine every morning - studying.
“One of the first things I do in the morning when I wake up is go over the past few installs, just always constantly keep programming it in my mind, putting myself in those situations, watching film from last year, seeing how certain guys played,” he said, noting that studying Chris Harris Jr. film has been a must.
“When you have a corner like Chris [Harris Jr.] who was here, one of the smart guys, you watch him and see how he plays certain things,” the cornerback said. “I’m like, ‘OK this is what’s going to help with this call. This is what he’s seeing.’ That’s what it is right now. A lot of us are doing extra work outside of the meetings just to make sure that we’re in tune so that whenever we report back, we’re just clicking like that.”
Putting in some extra time with Donatell is helping.
“He has been studying my game,” Bouyé said, noting that the defensive coordinator has been texting him about technique. “He’s been sending me clips of press technique and how to play certain things and just seeing what’s going to fit me well. ...He’s helped out so much. Not only him, but the other coaches. I’m just excited to get to work with those guys because in the meeting room we’re really dissecting a lot of things.”
Bouyé, who was suddenly thrust into the CB1 position last season after Jalen Ramsey was traded mid-October, is used to being the “vet” teacher in the room. While he’s new to the Broncos, he’s happy to take on the teaching role as well as the lead cornerback role - something he fell into at Jacksonville when Ramsey was traded.
“I started to become more like a coach,” Bouyé said. “My knowledge for the game is great. I study the game a lot, concepts, everything like that. I learned a lot from that….When Jalen left, that was my opportunity and I made a lot of plays with that, just kept building the confidence from that. That’s the role I’m ready to take on in Denver.”
He’ll have his work cut out for him as the cornerback room will be an interesting - and relatively young - one.
Expected to play across the field from Bouyé, Callahan will be playing for the first time as a Bronco after sitting out with a foot injury most of last year. The next most-experienced pro cornerback in the room will be DeVanté Bausby, who was having a great beginning to a revived NFL career last season before getting injured and missing the rest of 2019.
Isaac Yiadom and Devontae Harris will be in their third pro seasons while Duke Dawson will be playing in his second. Rookie third-round pick Michael Ojemudia and undrafted free agent Essang Bassey will also be fighting for the final spots on the CB depth chart.
But one thing Bouyé has learned while he’s been watching tape from last year is that all the guys know the scheme.
“They know the scheme very well,” he said. “A lot of guys have been jumping out to me on film. I like the way they play. I like their games. Might not have had a lot of production on the ball, but you can just see the technique and the athleticism from a lot of those guys. They all bring different things to the game. Isaac is a young guy. I like what I see out of him. Davontae Harris is a very physical guy. Even Bausby has good length. They have a lot of guys that I just want to come in and help with chemistry. Just like they’re going to make me better, I want to be able to make them better.”
His favorite “group” to help is always the undrafted guys - and he’s missing that without OTAs right now.
“That’s one thing I really like about OTAs and camp...I always want to work with the undrafted guys extra because those guys are sponges. They always want to learn anything because they’re open to playing special teams, open to everything. I just feel like I can relate more to those guys because they’re always learning. When I was coming in, I always wanted to learn from veterans. You had Kareem Jackson, you had [Titans CB] Jonathan Joseph and just those guys helping me out. I want to be able to do the same thing now.”
And when the time comes [hopefully] to actually play together, Bouyé is really looking forward to playing behind the defense’s Front 7.
“I always believed that you’re only as good as your d-line and vice versa,” he said, pointing out that it showed with their production in sacks and turnovers in Jacksonville. “Just to be able to bring that presence over here in Denver, I’m going to do my job. Everybody back there is going to do their job but we’re going to have some dogs up there getting after the quarterback. Now we just have to capitalize on these opportunities because they’re going to give us some.”
"Always, in my mind, I'm having to prove somebody wrong. I embrace that. I love it." - @AJBOUYE21— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) May 14, 2020
Although Bouyé has been proving his worth his entire career and will be replacing one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL when he slides into Chris Harris Jr’s role officially, Bouyé is ready to prove critics wrong again.
“I don’t look at it as pressure. Me and Chris have a great relationship. That’s a guy that took me in when I first came into the league,” he said, adding that he used to study Harris Jr. a lot early on even though CHJ usually played inside and Bouyé played outside corner. “This was the first time I really got to see him play on the outside, and I liked everything that I saw.”
Bouyé knows how Harris Jr. thinks and why he plays certain routes - and that’s what he’s paying attention to.
“That’s what I’m really watching. I don’t really listen to the outside noise and comparisons because at the end of the day, it’s a new year. It’s a new football year,” he said. “I have to focus on what I have to do to be the best. I can’t focus on trying to live up to someone else who’s not even here anymore.”