Tim Patrick minced absolutely no words when asked last week about the Broncos’ first-round rookie corner Patrick Surtain II.
Pressed to elaborate, Patrick had no problem.
“He’s bigger than what you think. I don’t know if you guys have gotten right next to him, but he’s like a solid 6-foot-2. He’s filled out, and he’s smart,” Patrick added. “You really don’t expect rookie DBs to know the whole defense already. He’s fitting right in with an already talented defense. It’s remarkable to see.”
And as if it were willed to be, PS2 got his first interception as the Broncos began their second week of training camp Monday.
Like any good corner, he saw it coming.
“I just read the quarterback’s eyes and I was just looking for it,” Surtain said Monday afternoon. “He sort of led me to the pick.”
Fellow cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Ronald Darby have also taken notice of the young stud.
“Oh yeah. Probably one of the quickest I’ve seen a rookie acclimate to a defense and pick up multiple spots,” Callahan said. “It’s pretty impressive.”
Impressive enough that even head coach Vic “I don’t give compliments” Fangio gave him props.
“It’s rare,” the coach said of Surtain’s ability to pick up different positions within the secondary. “It’s rare that you would ask a rookie to do that, No. 1, and it’s rare that he’s been able to handle it and do it. Now, he’s not perfected any of them yet, by any means, but we think he can and it’s not too big for him.”
And having defensive backs who can play different spots gives the defense a lot more options, Fangio noted.
“I don’t know if it opens [the defense] up, but it just makes it available,” he said, adding that the Broncos like many teams now played six DBs a lot last season. “I think the way offenses are playing nowadays, the way they’re lining people up, it’s good to have that. When you have good players to do it with, you’ll do it more.”
What stands out to Callahan the most about Surtain’s ability is his press technique.
“He kind of looks like he’s been in the league for a couple of years already,” the veteran corner added. “Real calm. He’s got a lot going for him.”
Darby pointed out that Surtain seems to already have passed “the rookie curve.” In fact, the new-to-the-Broncos cornerback had a litany of praises for the rook.
“He is for sure. He has a lot of natural abilities like getting his head back for the ball, playing the ball, just focusing on the ball,” Darby said. “He gets up there, compete, press, play off the ball. [He’s] patient, willing to learn, doesn’t complain. He works hard.”
Surtain says Darby is one of the players he has actually learned a lot from so far in the NFL.
“Just teaching me different techniques,” Surtain said. “He’s a vet, so just learning from him helps me every single day.”
To Bradley Chubb, whose job as an outside linebacker is infinitely easier if the secondary is making the quarterback wait just a half-second longer, Surtain is definitely playing more like a vet than a rookie.
“He’s carrying himself with a confidence and a swag. That’s what you love to see in a rookie, especially a DB,” he said. “That position gets challenged a lot, whether it’s deep balls or guarding the best athletes in the world. He’s been doing a really good job with it and we’re excited to see him when the season comes.”
There were already hints of this two months ago during OTAs when the king of hard work, Von Miller, noted the rookie.
“This Patrick Surtain II, this ‘PS2’ guy, he’s the real deal,” Miller said May 24. “There are a couple times where I look over my shoulder just to see who’s out there at receiver, left and right checking out the formation, and I see this guy standing out there. I’m like, ‘Bro, this guy is taller than me. Is he supposed to be inside? He’s supposed to be rushing. This guy is supposed to be rushing.’ He’s the real deal and he’s a specimen. He has great feet.”
Vic Fangio: "I need a really sticky cornerback for my man/match concepts."— Doug (mourning the all-22) Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) May 3, 2021
Patrick Surtain II: "I'm busy tanking Mike Leach's day, but I'll be right over." pic.twitter.com/GczDlCkA67
But for all the praise Surtain is getting right now, he’s also enough of a pro to know how to downplay that part.
His big plays (interception) are just “reading it right” and his mistakes (Jerry Jeudy TD off him) are just “helping each other get better.”
“I’m just taking it day-by-day, learning every position just in case the team needs me in certain spots. I’m just picking up on the playbook and translating it on to the field,” Surtain said. “I’m just out here controlling what I can control.”
Not a normal rookie
All the reports out of camp should make it crystal clear Patrick Surtain isn’t going to be a normal rookie. Those who have kept up with my (Joe R) chat with Make Defense Great Again’s Coach Vass already know how years learning the Nick Saban defense at Alabama has given him a leg up learning the Fangio system.
What has surprised me, however, is how the Broncos are throwing so much at him so soon. When I spoke with The Gazette’s George Stoia III, he said Surtain’s the first team dime corner and also showing out on the boundary for the second and third team.
There’s been questions about how Surtain would see the field because the Broncos are so loaded at cornerback. Kyle Fuller, Darby and Callahan aren’t going to make it easy for Fangio to start the rookie if they stay healthy.
It may not matter. Surtain’s versatility means the Broncos can run more dime personnel with six defensive backs on the field. His mental processing, physicality, and size make him an potential matchup weapon for the receivers masquerading as tight ends in the AFC West.
This possibility is just one of the reasons I’m so excited for the defense and it’s impact on the Broncos’ playoff odds. There’s no way around the fact Patrick Mahomes and his aerial circus currently run the division. It probably isn’t realistic to hope to shut them down, but making life difficult could do the trick if the offense does its part. If the Broncos’ dime package is as good as I expect, it should force Andy Reid to fight left handed.
In addition to what Surtain can offer a healthy Fangio defense is how he protects the secondary from Darby and Callahan’s lengthy injury histories. If the worst should come to pass and either veteran is forced to miss time, Surtain’s ability to mirror and match should make him a dependable fill-in. His length, patience, and technique also make him a promising press corner who can stifle opponents at the line of scrimmage.