Broncos Country is eager to get a look at its new-look defense under first-year defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. Hired by head coach Nathaniel Hackett, the 41-year-old Evero in Denver after winning Super Bowl LVI as the Los Angeles Rams’ secondary coach and passing game coordinator.
Broncos' GM George Paton is in his second season of leading the franchise and brought back four starters from the secondary as well as adding free-agent cornerback K’Waun Williams to the unit this offseason. For veteran cornerback Ronald Darby, Paton's offseason moves have been encouraging.
“That’s a blessing right there to have both of your starting safeties back, especially when you have vets like ‘KJack’ (Kareem Jackson) and ‘J’ (Justin Simmons), and then we have Pat (Surtain II) back, and me. So it’s like the room is the same,” said Darby on Wednesday.
As for his newest teammate in the secondary, Darby likes what he's seen from Williams, a former San Francisco 49er.
“Really twitchy, can move real smooth, smart, asks a lot of questions, works hard, kind of quiet," Darby said of Williams. "He’s a good dude.'
The 28-year-old Darby was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the second round in 2015 (No. 50 overall) out of Florida State. He started 29 games for the Bills in two seasons and recorded 137 tackles (121 solo), two interceptions, 32 pass deflections, and was named Pro Football Focus' Defensive Rookie of the Year.
In 2017, the Bills traded Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles where he went on to play 28 games, nabbing six interceptions and 32 pass deflections in addition to 114 tackles (103 solo). He represented Philly in Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots where he became a World Champion but ultimately battled a multitude of ankle, ACL, and hip injuries as an Eagle.
Darby signed with Washington as a free agent in 2020 and played all 16 games, finishing the season with 55 tackles (43 solo), and 16 passes defensed. Paton signed Darby the following season to a three-year, $30 million contract.
As a Bronco, Darby played in 11 games last season, totaling 53 tackles (42 solo) and defended six passes. He missed some games last year due to a hamstring injury sustained in Week 1, but ultimately returned to action and was consistent in his performance.
In 2022, Darby will be leaned on to man the outside perimeter opposite of Surtain. Darby has high expectations for his second-year teammate.
“A Pro Bowl year for sure," Darby said of Surtain's 2022 outlook. "He’s more comfortable as well, knows the defense. You know what he can do on the field, we’ve all seen it. I know he’s going to do great this year."
To see the heights Surtain reached as a rookie, even though it didn't come with any individual accolades like a Pro Bowl nod or All-Pro selection, was conspicuous to his veteran teammates like Darby.
“That’s what surprised me, how quickly he picked it up," Darby said of Surtain. "Not a lot of guys coming out of college, especially at corner, and get thrown into a starting role and plays as good as he did. To me, he had a Pro Bowl year last year. I know he’s going to continue to build onto that.”
Expectations for Denver's secondary should be sky-high as it's filled to the brim with veteran leadership, experience, and boat-loads of talent. Surely a former defensive backs coach turned coordinator like Evero will be able to get the best out of a position he knows so well.
Gone from the 2021 Broncos secondary are veterans like Bryce Callahan and Kyle Fuller. However, Williams replaces Callahan's slot prowess and when it comes to Fuller, Surtain already supplanted him — last year.
The Broncos also drafted three defensive backs, including fourth-rounder Damarri Mathis, a scrappy corner. The 2022 Broncos defense should head into the season prepared, reinvigorated, and in sync with each other. Darby seemingly agrees and made it clear there’s only one clear goal for this squad.
“Each year, no matter what team I’m on, of course everyone wants to win a Super Bowl, but we do have the team," he said. "We have the QB, the wide receivers, the running backs, the defense. So from there, just continue to work each day. OTAs, like, everyone is here, everyone is getting better.”
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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