Are Patrick Surtain II and Caden Sterns set for increased roles following Darby injury?

Denver Broncos safety Caden Sterns (30) breaks up a pass to Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Whop Philyor (16) in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Aug 14, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Denver Broncos safety Caden Sterns (30) breaks up a pass to Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Whop Philyor (16) in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the Denver Broncos’ most impressive rookie performances in the preseason came from defensive backs Caden Sterns and Patrick Surtain II.

It was difficult to not get excited about the high-end potential both prospects flashed throughout all three of Denver’s exhibition games. Not only was their in-game play remarkable, but they received constant praise from the coaching staff and respected veterans.

“It’s rare,” Fangio said of Surtain’s ability to play multiple positions so early, back in August. “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.”

Sterns also earned praise for his ability to adapt quickly.

“Caden [Sterns] [has] been great,” All-Pro safety Justin Simmons said of the rookie in August. “The thing that we talk about at safety is you’ve got to have the eyes, and you’ve got to be calm in that scheme and in the defense. He’s been both of that. He’s doing it at a great level right now, and really for him it’s just seeing how that matches up in a game. Seeing how he processes things in a game and things like that. I have no doubt that he’s going to do great. He’s really bright comes to me with some questions that I’m like yeah, I didn’t even think about that. You know what I’m saying? ‘Let me actually go look at this,’ and so Caden’s been great man. I’m really excited for him.”

However, despite their strong showings, the two rookies understandably saw their roles shrink with the regular season kicking off and the starters returning to their normal snap counts.

Now, they’re finally getting their chance to shine in meaningful games.

With Ronald Darby on injured reserve, Surtain will now be one of the starting corners and Sterns will slide into the dime cornerback role with the help of Nate Hairston, Fangio announced Thursday.

“We have a variety of guys that play different roles,” defensive coordinator Ed Donatell told the media Thursday. “Nate [Hairston] will be in there, Caden [Sterns] will be in there, both of them. They’ve done a good job and we exposed them to that in camp. One of the strong things is the way George [Paton] built our secondary in the offseason. We have a lot of guys, so when a guy needs a rest or if a guy is down for a week, we have guys that can fill in. We have plenty of corners, and I think we’re in good shape.”

Donatell also, unsurprisingly, took time to compliment Surtain and his development.

“Everything about Pat is his process,” Denver’s defensive coordinator said. “He has such a great process in his preparation. He’s very serious and listens. He learns with every experience that comes his way. It’s really all about his process, and that’ll lead to good things.”

Meanwhile, the Broncos’ face of the franchise, Von Miller, declined to offer advice to Surtain ahead of his first career start, because, “he’s got ‘it’.”

“He carries himself in a way that it’s not too many things that you would give him advice about,” Miller said. “I just sit and watch him. He pretty much does everything right. He does everything he’s supposed to do. He comes to work early. He’s fast, he’s athletic, he can guard the No. 2 receiver, he can blitz. He can do whatever you want him to do. Pat is the type of guy—he’s going to get everything and more in the National Football League. He’s 6-foot-3 and he runs a 4.3 [40-yard dash]. He can cover the slot receiver, and he can cover your big possession receivers. He just has the total package. When I look at him, there’s not too much. Whenever it’s something that I can give advice on, it would probably be the way he dresses. That’s probably the only thing that you could give him advice on right now. He has everything else, pretty much. He has his thumb on everything else. He’s going to be a great player in the league.”

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