Only three weeks ago, the Broncos appeared in decent shape at cornerback. Starters Bryce Callahan and A.J. Bouye were healthy and rookie Essang Bassey had seized the nickel role.
In the win over Miami, Callahan and Bouye played all 65 snaps and Bassey 54.
Now they’re all gone.
Callahan (foot) is on injured reserve, out at least two more games. Bassey (knee) is done for the season. And Bouye was suspended six games by the NFL on Wednesday for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
The attrition leaves rookie Michael Ojemudia and veteran DeVante Bausby as the top two cornerbacks Sunday against Carolina, followed by some combination of Kevin Toliver, Will Parks and Duke Dawson as the nickel.
“It’s just another (dose) of adversity you have to deal with and you have to get through it and move on and that’s what these (players) have done a good job of all year and I expect them to continue to do that for the next four weeks,” coach Vic Fangio said before practice.
Bouye told Fangio about the possibility of a suspension “a couple of weeks ago,” which means Bouye’s camp was in the process of an appeal with the league. The NFL does not announce discipline until an appeal has been heard and decided.
“I was disappointed for him,” Fangio said. “Players have to make really, really good judgments with the people they trust with their career and their finances and obviously something went wrong with this person he dealt with and trusted. It’s a disappointing situation for everybody.”
Acquired from Jacksonville for a fourth-round pick, Bouye’s first — and maybe only — season with the Broncos was disappointing. He injured his shoulder in the Week 1 loss to Tennessee and missed the next four games; he sustained a concussion in the Week 8 win over the Los Angeles Chargers and missed the next game (loss at Atlanta).
In seven games, Bouye had 23 tackles, seven pass break-ups and no interceptions.
“He did have a choppy season; I think the injuries played a part in that,” Fangio said. “We thought these last couple games, he was starting to play better.”
Bouye will be eligible to participate in the offseason program and preseason games next year and then sit out Weeks 1-2.
Will that be with the Broncos? Bouye counts $13.375 million on next year’s salary cap and the Broncos can cut him with no dead money — dollars that could be allocated to safety Justin Simmons’ new deal. It would make cornerback a draft priority.
The loss of Callahan, Bouye and Bassey creates huge opportunities for the remaining available players.
Ojemudia (40 tackles/five pass break-ups) re-entered the lineup when Callahan was injured.
Bausby has been cut three times this year, including twice by the Broncos, and didn’t play a defensive snap in the last two games.
Dawson was the Broncos’ dime package defender (sixth defensive back) for the first nine games before he was replaced by safety/cornerback Alijah Holder.
Toliver has been a healthy scratch the last four games.
And Parks practiced for the first time Wednesday since being acquired last week from Philadelphia via waivers.
Most familiar to Broncos fans is Parks, who will need to step in right away and played for the team from 2016-19.
“When I received the phone call from my agent that I was returning to Denver, it was just excitement to get the news,” said Parks, who has spent the last week working out at his hotel. “Obviously, with the guys going down, I have to definitely prepare for every position.”
Said Fangio: “He’ll probably stay inside and be one of the guys that will play the nickel, dime or safety and we don’t plan on playing him at corner unless we have an emergency.”
Parks said his recall to Fangio’s defense has been seamless.
“To be honest, I haven’t missed a beat,” Parks said. “There are going to be two or three wrinkles that a defensive scheme adds, but just the terminology has clicked in already.”