The Denver Broncos held their 11th practice of training camp on Friday at UC Health Training Center after taking Thursday off in response to the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, Wis. If we were picking winners, the defense would be the clear victors of the day at Broncos camp.
A big reason for that was the impact of veteran cornerback A.J. Bouye. Acquired via trade from Jacksonville back in the spring, Bouye might be a newcomer in Denver but he's playing like a long-tooth veteran of Vic Fangio's complex defensive scheme.
Bouye has been around the ball constantly since camp began and has broken up many would-be completions for Drew Lock and has intercepted more than his fair share of passes. After another sensational practice in which Bouye broke up a pass in the end zone intended for Broncos' Pro Bowl wideout Courtland Sutton while intercepting another, the veteran corner was a topic of conversation.
Following practice, head coach Vic Fangio was made available to the media and was asked what it is about Bouye that allows him to be around the ball so consistently and such an obvious fit for the scheme.
“He’s got good instincts," Fangio said via Zoom on Friday. "When you couple instincts with experience, you have a chance to be around the ball more often. He’s dove himself into learning our system, all the fine points that could help with corner. He’s picking them up quickly."
After letting long-time cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. defect to the Los Angeles Chargers in free agency, the Broncos need a No. 1-caliber guy to take over and lead the room. Bouye, an eighth-year player, has taken on that mantle like a natural.
"He’s a good addition," Fangio said of Bouye. "We’re really happy to have him both as a player and a person. Looking forward to him.”
Fangio long coveted Bouye, dating back to his free-agent romp back in 2017. After playing four years for the Houston Texans, Bouye hit the open market and found a lot of suitors vying for the services of the 6-foot-1, 191-pound corner.
As the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, Fangio pounded the table for Bouye and came close to inking a deal but the player ultimately took a slightly better offer in Jacksonville. Bouye would go on to produce his one Pro Bowl campaign that year for the Jaguars, picking off a career-high six passes while breaking up 18.
Bouye, as Fangio intimated, is a supremely instinctual corner. He excels as baiting the quarterback, similarly to ex-Bronco Aqib Talib, and driving on the ball to pick it off. In Fangio's more zone-based coverage schemes where the idea is for corners to keep the play in front of them with one eye on their assignment and one on the QB, Bouye is an ideal fit.
What's the key to interceptions in Bouye's estimation?
“I’ll say probably just when we’re playing tight coverage, they’ll make some catches, but the ones that we could get out are like tips or overthrown balls," Bouye said back on August 18. "We just have to always have our eye on the ball to make those plays not only that just punching out the ball, stripping out the ball, being more aggressive in the run game—just the first guy come in, make the tackle."
At 28 years old, the Broncos believe he's still in his prime, and based on the first 11 practices, the evidence on the field supports that. The Broncos plan to start Bryce Callahan as the No. 2 corner opposite of Bouye in base defense and kick him inside to the slot in sub-packages.
That No. 3 corner job has been zealously fought over with De'Vante Bausby, Isaac Yiadom, and Davontae Harris all battling for the job (with maybe a little Michael Ojemudia sprinkled in before he injured his quad). Although that particular roster battle is yet undecided, it would appear Bausby is the leader in the clubhouse.
It's only training camp — but so far, so good for Bouye as a Bronco. The team needs him to play at a high level in 2020 and lead the cornerback room. Based on the early returns of camp, I wouldn't bet against him having a resurgent season in Fangio's scheme.