The Broncos have a cornerback quandary.
Bryce Callahan, signed as a free agent to be the starting cornerback opposite Chris Harris, hasn’t played in the regular season due to a foot injury and remains out indefinitely. Also out indefinitely is De’Vante Bausby, who was carted off the field during Sunday’s win against the Chargers with a neck injury. Fellow cornerback Horace Richardson, meanwhile, is on injured reserve.
Despite the losses, Broncos coach Vic Fangio said Monday it’s unlikely more cornerbacks will be signed.
“We still have Davontae (Harris), we still have Isaac (Yiadom),” Fangio said. “I’m sure we’ll look (at the market), but there’s not a lot available right now.”
Denver ranks fourth in the NFL with 202.2 passing yards allowed per game, but it will be a big ask of an injury-riddled and somewhat green secondary to keep that ranking.
Harris replaced Yiadom in the second half on Sunday after a pair of defensive holding penalties on Yiadom on Los Angeles’ final drive of the first half. Yiadom, who stepped in for the injured Bausby, has struggled to capitalize on his opportunities this season after playing 13 games as a rookie in 2018.
Fangio said Bausby is “doing good” and that Harris, who had three tackles Sunday, “did okay” in his Broncos defensive debut. He gave up completions of 13 and 14 yards and later committed a 31-yard pass interference penalty. Harris appeared in three games for Cincinnati last year but was cut following the preseason. Denver signed him in early September.
“It was obvious that they were going to go after whoever was in there (at corner) at that time,” Fangio said. “He got a lot of action for his first action (on defense).”
Duke Dawson, a second-year player acquired by trade with New England at the beginning of the season, also saw significant time Sunday and recorded four tackles.
“We’re hoping he can come along because if he does, it allows us to play Kareem (Jackson) at safety, which is where I would prefer to play Kareem,” Fangio said. “I don’t think (Dawson) played a clean game (Sunday), but he was out there a lot and we played really good defense. He deserves his credit.”
Meanwhile, the All-Pro Harris did his part to turn in a lockdown performance against the Chargers’ Keenan Allen. Allen entered the game as the NFL’s leading receiver but Harris held him to four catches for 18 yards. Harris remains a strong point of Denver’s depth-challenged cornerback unit.
Justin Simmons and Jackson, who had a game-high 10 tackles against the Chargers in his return from a hamstring injury, continue to provide steady play at the safety position. Denver (1-4) faces a weak passing attack in Sunday’s home game against Tennessee (2-3). The Titans are averaging 192.2 yards per game by air, the fifth-worst mark in the NFL.
Injury updates. Fangio said linebacker Justin Hollins, who left Sunday’s game with a knee sprain, is “week-to-week. There’s a chance he could miss this week, or a couple weeks. The next few days will tell.”
Fangio also said right tackle Ja’Wuan James, who practiced last week for the first time since suffering a knee injury in Week 1, will practice again this week and his availability will be further evaluated for Sunday. The same thing for linebacker Josey Jewell (hamstring).
Punt return issues. Punt returner Dionte Spencer had a couple judgement miscues on Sunday against Los Angeles.
Spencer, a former CFL star who was claimed off waivers before the season, called for a fair catch on a punt at Denver’s 9-yard line. He also caught a punt at the team’s own 4-yard line for no return yards.
Fangio made it clear he wasn’t pleased with Spencer’s decisions.
“He’s not doing what he’s been coached to do there,” Fangio said.
More time for Purcell, Johnson. Fangio indicated defensive lineman Mike Purcell and linebacker Alexander Johnson will get more opportunities in the lineup after solid showings against Los Angeles.
“They both played well enough to continue (as starters),” Fangio said.
Purcell would be taking snaps in place of Adam Gotsis, although Fangio didn’t rule out Gotsis in the defensive mix from week-to-week. Shelby Harris’ versatility allows him to slide to defensive end and Purcell to play nose tackle, a situation Fangio’s comfortable with.
Of Johnson, who is seeing the field due to Jewell’s injury, Fangio offered measured praise after the 27-year-old had an interception and nine tackles against the Chargers in his first NFL start.
“He’s a young guy who needs to master his craft a little bit better — assignment-wise and details — but I always knew he was eventually going to get in there somehow, some way,” Fangio said. “But first, he needed to earn some stripes on the special teams, and improve there. I had a feeling he would play well yesterday.
Fangio continued: “Now, was he perfect? You saw a lot of good plays, but the plays you didn’t notice — there were some accidents ready to happen that didn’t get exploited and he needs to clean those up.”