ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The NFL in June is the stuff of football wedding planners.
A time when everyone is in the best shape of their lives, has added several pounds of muscle, feels quicker than ever before and believes winning can be in their future. And why not?
The offseason is when optimism can be built alongside the playbook. But as the Denver Broncos work through their mandatory minicamp this week — their final days of the offseason program — rookie cornerback Pat Surtain II’s status has grown from routine optimism to the reality that he will play a lot. Just listen to his veteran teammates.
“This Patrick Surtain II, this ‘PS2’ guy, he’s the real deal,” Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “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.”
Safety Justin Simmons said: “He’s a big guy and moves really well. Just really fluid movement. It just seems like there is no wasted movement in his game, which obviously you all know how important that is in the secondary position. I’m really excited for him.”
In the Broncos’ on-field work since Surtain was taken with the No. 9 overall pick in the NFL draft, he has convinced veteran players, who usually take a wait-and-see approach to rookies, and coaches he’s ready for anything.
The Broncos certainly hoped he would arrive as advertised. General manager George Paton declared him one of the top players on the Broncos’ draft board, and Surtain was the second defensive player selected overall — the Carolina Panthers selected cornerback Jaycee Horn at No. 8.
“He’s a baller,” Broncos cornerback Bryce Callahan said. “Just from what I’ve seen so far, he has great size and he’s a big corner. He’s disciplined in his technique and he’s learning the defense — multiple positions — really fast, which, in this defense, is rare for a rookie.”
It isn’t that Surtain has simply shown he’s skilled, smart and prepared — that’s what the Broncos’ projected him to be after his three seasons at Alabama — it’s that Broncos coach Vic Fangio is already loading him up with information, and Surtain is responding. Recently Surtain took practice snaps at left cornerback, right cornerback and lined up in the slot — all during a six-play span.
That’s not a let-the-rookie-learn-one-job approach. That’s the approach for a rookie schooled by a longtime defensive backs coach in Nick Saban at Alabama and a father, Patrick Sr., who was his high school coach and a three-time Pro Bowl selection during an 11-year career at the same position.
“The thing I like most about him up to this point, I like his demeanor,” Fangio said. “I think he’s got an NFL demeanor, especially the type of demeanor you need to play corner in this league. I think he has some versatility, which we’re going to need to take advantage of. Everything has been good so far with Patrick, but we were expecting that.”
The Broncos needed help in the secondary and signed cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller in free agency weeks before they made Surtain their first-round pick. Early on, it is Surtain who has been moved around in the formation, asked to be a multitasker, far more than Darby and Fuller have. Fuller did not attend the early portion of the offseason work, but he was in attendance for last week’s OTA work as well as minicamp.
Some might have wondered where Surtain would play in a secondary that signed two veteran cornerbacks during free agency, but so far the answer has been simple: Wherever they need him.
“He’s grown up around football and you can see that,” Fangio said. “He’s very calm, and I don’t mean calm as a flat line. He doesn’t get flustered and he’s a very good competitor. He uses his physical attributes well. We’ve been very pleased with him up to this point.”