ENGLEWOOD, Colorado— The Broncos’ first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft landed the 2022 first pick.
Throughout the offseason, Pat Surtain II’s teammates sang his praises. Safety Justin Simmons said he thought Surtain would be a top-five cornerback for as long as he played, and safety Kareem Jackson spoke about how rare Surtain’s skills were at his young age.
Surtain’s potential was on full display Tuesday when he intercepted Russell Wilson in the Broncos’ first 11-on-11 OTA practice game. After securing the ball, the 2021 ninth overall pick took off the other way and possibly scored under playing conditions.
In practice, head coach Nathaniel Hackett and the Broncos’ offense don’t plan the game or turn away from Surtain, but the cornerback’s ability has been evident many times during OTAs.
“It’s a great defense there, and wherever people go against each other, that’s what happens,” Hackett said. “We chased him a few times, and he had an amazing game last week which was just brilliant to see. A great run by Courtland [Sutton] and he was able to recover. It’s just fun to see the guys come out and challenge each other every day.”
Hackett said Tuesday’s interception — the first of the offseason by a Broncos defenseman — was the result of an offensive error, but he acknowledged Surtain’s heads-up response.
“We have to sort out some things on offense on that one,” Hackett said. “We messed that up. We have to keep running on that, but I thought it was a great reactionary play for him.
“… We’re going to hear about it. It was a hell of a job on every level. The defense is going very well. Obviously they played together, they did a good job. It makes us better, makes me better, makes everything the best attack.”
Offensively, the Broncos responded well to the early mistake. After the pick, Wilson was able to make several passes in a tight window during practice, and Hackett said the quarterback was capable of displaying a short memory.
“Focused,” Hackett said of Wilson’s response. “The first game didn’t go very well today, then he just bounced back, he went back to it. He wasn’t fazed at all. I think as a quarterback – a little bit like a corner – you have to live every game and when that game is over, move on to the next one. It’s as simple as that. I think it’s something I got to see him do. That’s why we We train, we train to find our limits.
If Wilson’s career is any indication, interceptions will be rare. Wilson has thrown more than 10 interceptions just once in the last four seasons, and he has never thrown more than 13 in a season in his career. Over the past four seasons, Wilson has averaged less than eight interceptions a year. He threw more than one interception in a game just five times in that span. By comparison, Broncos quarterbacks have played 12 such games over the past four years.
Surtain, however, has played against even the best quarterbacks in the NFL. As a rookie, he landed one of the first overall picks Trevor Lawrence, intercepted Justin Herbert twice and knocked out Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. And as he improves ahead of his second season, he could also have Wilson once or twice.
“I say that all the time about Pat, a guy that size [and] speed and still having the technique that he has is rare,” Jackson said. “To be so young, anyway. For him, I know he wants to improve in all aspects. He goes out every day and he works. »
As the Broncos transition to a zone blocking system, Denver offensive linemen have been tested to learn the new system.
The Lloyd Cushenberry III Center passed these tests.
“We do a lot of different tests with the guys during meetings,” Hackett said. “We have these fun Kahoot! tests that we like to do. He wins every single one of them when the whole group is there. It’s a challenge for all the offensive guys because we’re all trying to figure out how we can find someone. one to beat him, but he’s doing a great job, his knowledge of the system, his understanding, is improving every day.
Cushenberry’s athleticism also lends itself to the Broncos’ new scheme.
“He’s awesome,” Hackett said. “He’s a guy you can do downhill stuff with like they’ve done in the past with the inside zone, but he can run away from the ball. That’s something you want to take advantage of. He can reach a shadow what it has shown so far and I can’t wait to put some pads on and see some more.”
Cushenberry said he believed he could play any system, but he recognized the advantages of Hackett’s offense.
“I love it so far,” Cushenberry said. “Show our athleticism, get out there and run. Highlight the defense a bit. I love that and hopefully we can all play together once the season comes around.”