ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — One challenge stands out above all of the others when the Broncos head to Las Vegas next week: defending Davante Adams.

“He’s hard to cover,” Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said of the All-Pro receiver. “He’s got size, he can go up for the ball, and he can in-and-out you. He can do all of things that an elite receiver can do.”

Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett has history with Adams; he was Adams’ offensive coordinator the past three seasons in Green Bay. While 2019 was a slow start (at least compared to Adams’ standards), he was a first-team All-Pro in each of the next two seasons. The numbers are remarkable.

2020: 115 receptions, 1,374 yards, 18 touchdowns
2021: 123 catches, 1,553 yards, 11 touchdowns

“You just have to try to slow him down. He’s a guy who I’ve been with for the past three years. He’s an amazing human being and somebody that’s very dear to my heart. But at the same time, we have to stop him. I know that he’s a dynamic receiver with how he can get the ball vertically, intermediate and all over the place.”

This year, following a trade from the Packers to the Raiders, Adams hasn’t quite been himself. He caught 10 balls for 141 yards but he has 7 catches and 48 yards total in the past two weeks. The redeeming stat is a touchdown in every performance.

The biggest factor is moving from Green Bay’s West Coast scheme to Josh McDaniels’ version of the New England offense.

“It’s a different system, for sure,” Hackett said. “I know they want to get him the ball. Why wouldn’t you? He’s a great player and great with the ball in his hands. He had an amazing catch in the red zone for a touchdown. It just shows how good he is even when he’s contested. Like I said, it’s going to be a great challenge for our defense, and they are getting up for it.”

The question is how exactly the Broncos plan to defend Adams. Some teams will double-team him. Others will leave him one-on-one and try to make sure he’s the only threat.

In Denver, the question is whether or not Pat Surtain II will follow him around the field.

“I don’t want to give up too much of the game plan, but he’s a heck of a cover guy,” Evero said of Surtain. “Davante is a tough cover for anybody, even the best corners in the league, and we just have to change up the looks on him.”

Changing the looks up is a bit of a hint, but there isn’t much in that answer.

Last season, as a rookie, Surtain was in charge of running his half of the field. He spent 12 games on the lefts side and four games on the right side. He only moved to the other side of the field for one play all season. That’s exactly how things worked at Alabama, where he was on the right side has a sophomore and on the left side as a junior, before becoming a top 10 pick.

“When you stick on one side for the majority of the time, then you become acclimated to it. It becomes second nature,” Surtain told DNVR. “When I go on the left side I feel more—I’m not going to say comfortable—but I’m more used to it.”

It’s similar to switching a left tackle to the right side; everything is reversed.

“Left side is probably different footwork, different break points, different angles,” Surtain said. “Then going to another side you’ve gotta work on your fundamentals and angles. It’s not that much of an adjustment.”

This season, Surtain is switching between sides more during the game. He’s played two-thirds of his snaps on the right side but he’s played at least a quarter of each game on the left.

Across the league, teams used lockdown cornerbacks differently. the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey has played 70 snaps on the left side and 69 on the right. He’s spent 40 plays in the slot, with 20 on each side. He’s moving all over the place. The Falcons’ AJ Terrell and the Browns’ Denzel Ward have been used similarly.

Meanwhile, the Chargers’ JC Jackson, the Dolphins’ Xavien Howard and the Ravens’ Marlon Humphrey have consistently stuck to their side. Jaire Alexander, of the Packers, hasn’t played a single snap on the left side of the field.

The battle is different when you guard the same guy all day.

“Throughout the game you get a feel for them; understanding different concepts, routes, their tendencies, techniques and stuff,” he said. “You get a feel for it throughout the game.”

Surtain doesn’t have a preference as to whether he follows the opponents’ top receiver or plays his side.

“Wherever they feel like they need to move me to, I feel comfortable doing,” Surtain said.

And he’s excited for the opportunity to guard Adams in any capacity.

“That’s what you come into the league for; to play against guys like that.”


Henry was born in Columbia Falls, Montana and graduated from Columbia Falls High School in 2015. He earned bachelor's degrees in journalism and economics from the University of Montana in 2019. After graduation, he joined DNVR. He spent three years covering the University of Colorado before moving to the Broncos beat ahead of the 2022 season. Henry joined DNVR as a remote staff writer in 2017, providing support to BSN's Broncos beat reporters. He interned at DNVR headquarters in the summer of 2018 and accepted a full-time position after graduating from UM. Follow Henry on Twitter - @HenryChisholm