ENGLEWOOD — A.J. Bouye is not a talker. He is, however, quite the corner.
When the Broncos acquired Bouye as Chris Harris Jr.’s replacement, it raised eyebrows. Harris should be a Ring of Famer someday. Bouye has one Pro Bowl on his resume, and his best season came in 2017 when the Houston Astros were still banging on trash cans.
It’s been a minute. Sometimes a change of scenery can reinvigorate a player. With the last star exiting Jacksonville tasked with turning out the lights, Bouye’s departure became well-timed.
“It has been a fresh start. The coaches (Vic Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell) wanted to get to me know me as a person (on and off the field),” A.J. Bouye said. “They have given me freedom in the defense.”
Watch Bouye at practice, and his football IQ reveals itself. He is consistently in the right spot, and holds his own in frequent matchups with Pro Bowl receiver Courtland Sutton. Bouye told me that the coaches’ trust allows him to explore the nuances of the defense, putting him in position to make more plays.
Sutton has come away impressed.
“A.J. is a proven vet, a guy that’s been around the block,” Sutton said. “In camp it’s been fun to go against him. It’s fun to be able to push him and have him push me.”
Added Bouye, “We have our battles. He’s a bigger receiver. He attacks a ball like a basketball player. It’s really tough for a DB.”
With Bouye making a seamless transition, the secondary sets up as a flexed muscle on a strong defense. Safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson have benefited from year two in Fangio’s system as much as anyone, with Simmons regularly delivering big plays and Jackson providing attitude, physicality and the soundtrack.
“I don’t get into too much. I let Kareem do all the talking,” said Bouye with a smile.
Bryce Callahan remains paired opposite of Bouye, and how he handles outside coverage will face scrutiny. He is a proven inside coverage man, and the Broncos boast options at third corner in DeVante Bausby, Devontae Harris and Isaac Yiadom.
Watching the offense navigate a clumsy summer — this is not criticism, but a reality for a young group that had no OTAs or preseason games — places the onus on the defense to dominate. The Broncos became the first team since the stats were tracked in 1982 to open a season without any sacks or takeaways in the first three games. If that happens again, Denver’s playoff drought will extend to five seasons.
Over the final 12 games, the Broncos held opponents to 20 points or less eight times. Denver finished with a respectable 40 sacks, tied for 17th, but their 17 takeaways ranked 25th, an unacceptable number. To become elite, the Broncos need to have a lead once in awhile, but must spike their takeaway total by 10.
One thing is clear, this group has an edge, sharpened by the new and more boisterous Von Miller, and a narrow focus.
“When it comes to (the identity of the defense), the first thing I notice is the chemistry,” Bouye said. “There is a closeness to this group.”
Bradley Chubb (left knee) did not practice for the second straight day after leaving Saturday’s stadium practice with discomfort. Coach Fangio continues to talk confidently about Chubb playing. However, it’s fair to think he might be on a play count as he gains confidence in his final 5-to-10 percent of his recovery. …
Graham Glasgow (ankle) remained sidelined. …
Fangio had injured players work out in full pads, including linebacker Todd Davis (left calf), receiver K,J. Hamler (hamstring) and cornerbacks Michael Ojemudia and Alijah Holder. …
Nose tackle Mike Purcell continues to make plays, asserting himself in year two with the Broncos. …
Troy Fumagalli will miss roughly a week after surgery involving an abdomen issue. …