Every player in his first year is going to experience his 'Hey, rookie — welcome to the NFL' moment. It's inevitable.
For Denver Broncos' first-round cornerback Patrick Surtain II, perhaps that moment came in the team's 27-13 victory over the New York Giants in Week 1. Surtain did not play much and surrendered a touchdown in coverage after he opted to play trail technique and got burned.
Rumors abound that Surtain was benched after the relinquished touchdown. Maybe, maybe not.
Listening to head coach Vic Fangio, it sounds like Surtain's lack of playing time at MetLife Stadium was anything simply the way the cookie crumbled based on game flow and personnel groupings. The rookie was a victim of circumstance more than anything of his own doing but Fangio is resolved to make sure Surtain sees the field more moving forward.
“We just wanted him to play some," Fangio said on Monday. "He’s too good of a player to only play in the dime package, so we want to have him ready and we’re grooming him—not grooming him, but he deserves to play some so we’re going to play him some.”
Surtain saw just 16 snaps on defense, which accounted for a paltry 26% of the total. Meanwhile, veteran starters Ronald Darby (100%), Kyle Fuller (90%), and Bryce Callahan (84%) were on the field most of the game. Although he bounced back, Fuller did not have a good start to the game.
With a corner as talented as Surtain — and bringing some bonafide draft pedigree to the table — waiting in the wings, Fuller is under the gun to turn the ship around or else see the rookie slowly chip away at his snap share.
Reading between the lines of what Fangio said, it doesn't seem like the Broncos planned to play Surtain much in the season-opener. It was more of a 'get your beak wet' opportunity to expose the rookie to NFL game speed.
“Well, the plan was we were going to give him a series in the first half, and that was the series," Fangio explained. "Then, the third quarter, we drove the ball a pretty good ways timewise, so we went out there for the first series and then the next time we were out on the field I believe it was the fourth quarter, so we just decided to finish it that way because we might be playing more dime.”
Alas, Surtain came out on the losing end of a huge scoring play early in his first game, which created some murky optics for fans and media trying to interpret why he wasn't seen much the rest of the game. But that's how players learn and as Fangio said, "No corner is going to go unscathed."
With the Jacksonville Jaguars next up on the schedule, it'll be interesting to see how much Surtain's playing time might increase. I wouldn't expect it to be some quantum leap forward in snap-share — unless Fuller or Darby falter.
As was evidenced by the Broncos' smothering passing defense in New York, that veteran trio is as good as it gets in the NFL, which will make it difficult on the coaches to fit Surtain onto the field without taking a stud off. Perhaps Surtain's greatest value and utility to the Broncos won't be fully realized until Week 4 when the Baltimore Ravens — and their Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews — come to Denver.
The 6-foot-2 Surtain will be used as a matchup weapon against talented pass-catching tight ends and the first real test of that caliber comes with Andrews but will be followed up by two contests vs. Kansas City's Travis Kelce and two vs. Las Vegas' Darren Waller.
Surtain will be conscripted into service right away with the news via 9NEWS' Mike Klis of Darby going on short-term injured reserve after the veteran suffered a serious hamstring injury on the last defensive series of Sunday's action.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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