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Rookie safety Douglas Coleman hopes knack for takeaways translates from Texas Tech to Broncos


Douglas Coleman was a true freshman at Texas Tech playing cornerback for the first time in his football life when he received a preview of what NFL defenses would soon witness.

Every day in 2016, Coleman practiced against Red Raiders quarterback Patrick Mahomes and saw the arm strength, improvisation and play-making moxie that would lead the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl title only three years later.

“Him not fully looking at me, but still throwing at me, that really challenged me day in and day out,” Coleman said.

Yes, before the no-look pass flummoxed pro defenses, Mahomes used it to test Coleman and his college teammates. Coleman, now a safety, hopes to compete against Mahomes this year after signing with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent.

A first-team All-Big 12 selection last year whose eight interceptions were third-most in FBS, Coleman said in a phone interview he heard from “maybe 2-3 teams” before choosing the Broncos.

“I thought it was the best fit defensively and how (the Broncos) play defense, it’s pretty similar to Texas Tech,” Coleman said. “I’m catching on pretty fast, actually. I’ve always been able to learn coverages and apply them.”

The Broncos are set with Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons as their starting safeties. Also under contract are Trey Marshall (who replaced Jackson during his two-game suspension), Alijah Holder (who moved from cornerback to safety after last year’s preseason), P.J. Locke, Kahani Smith and Coleman. Marshall should be considered the favorite to win the No. 3 job, but the rest could be wide open.

Show the ball skills he exhibited for Texas Tech, and Coleman could break through.

“Put him back there in the middle of the field and let him use his instincts and ability to read the quarterback,” Red Raiders defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said.

Coleman took an unorthodox route to becoming the linchpin of Patterson’s defense.

Raised in Zachary, La., he generated recruiting attention as a receiver, catching 114 passes for 2,334 yards and 23 touchdowns. But Texas Tech, then led by current Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, wanted Coleman to play cornerback.

“I had seen a lot of NFL defensive backs had started out as receivers and then used their athletic ability to make plays on defense,” Coleman said.

Coleman played cornerback for three years, starting 13 of his 35 games, intercepting three passes and making 68 tackles. But a new coaching staff last spring meant a new opportunity.

“They needed somebody to step up and play (safety) and I said to myself, ‘Why not me?’” Coleman said.

The instincts Patterson referred to are why he moved Coleman to safety.

“Being a multi-faceted player in high school and playing all the different positions, it helped those instincts,” Patterson said. “Doug was one of the first guys that bought into us and our system last spring and I really liked his approach and how he tried to master his craft.”

Texas Tech started the season with a “Quarters Match” as its base coverage, which incorporated zone (four across) that can turn into man depending on the route. Injuries in the secondary forced Patterson to play more “Cover 2” (each safety takes half of the field) and Douglas thrived in both systems.

Douglas had 63 tackles and two-interception games against Arizona and Oklahoma State.

Regardless of the coverage, Douglas’ ball skills jump off the tape. He showed good awareness on overthrown passes, a willingness to gamble at the right time by undercutting a route and could cover ground to make the interception.

Patterson’s favorite interception?

“Probably the one against Oklahoma State because it was such a momentum changer,” he said.

Or …

“As soon as I say that, his first one against Arizona was big.”

Or …

“I thought the one to start the game against Kansas was big.”

And …

“I can’t really single one out.”

Asked the same question, Coleman said: “The first one against Arizona just because of the coverage we were in. The ball probably should have been for the other safety, but I covered the ground.”

Coleman’s interceptions didn’t translate to being drafted, though. How?

“You know, college football and the NFL are two different animals,” Patterson said after a laugh. “I don’t know or understand what all goes into what makes a guy a draft pick or a free agent. I just know Doug is one of those guys I would never bet against.”