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When it pertains to cornerback play for Broncos' Patrick Surtain II, dad understands best-- The Undefeated

In his eleventh game as an NFL cornerback, Patrick Surtain II, a 21-year-old rookie for the Denver Broncos, defended two interceptions, five tackles..


In his eleventh game as an NFL cornerback, Patrick Surtain II, a 21-year-old rookie for the Denver Broncos, defended two interceptions, five tackles and two passes to lead his team to a 28-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers . The highlight of Surtain’s performance in the game on November 28 at Denver’s Empower Field at Mile High was a 70-yard pick-six that helped him be AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

To prepare for the game, Surtain studied film and followed instructions from his positional manager and defensive coordinator, but he had a different voice on his mind when he took to the field against the Chargers that afternoon. His father, Patrick Surtain Sr., had promised his son that he would have some great playing opportunities against a sophomore Chargers offensive led by Justin Herbert.

“Teams threw at me and my dad felt like a big game was coming because we knew Herbert would try to win the game with his arm,” Surtain told The Undefeated. “So he was really proud of me for taking these opportunities.”

Surtain Sr., a three-time pro bowler who served with the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs during his 11-year NFL career, spent most of his life training his son in the intricacies of the cornerback position.

American Heritage cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. announces his intention to play for the Alabama Crimson Tide at the American Heritage School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Douglas Jones / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“When Pat was 8 I could tell that he would later become a cornerback because he was beginning to outgrow the running back position,” said Surtain Sr. “He had the perfect body and athleticism for a cornerback. The way he could run and follow the ball and simply his natural ball skills and physicality made him a natural for the position. ”

Surtain Sr. was his son’s head coach at the American Heritage School in Plantation, Florida, where Surtain was selected as one of six players from his 2018 senior class for the 2021 NFL draft. After an All-American career in Alabama, Surtain finished ninth overall in the first round. For most of the weekends this fall, Surtain Sr. sped to an airport after his own games at American Heritage, where he’s head coach since 2016, to see his son’s games.

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To fully understand this father-son bond, one must also understand the craft and function of the cornerback position.

“We’re the hunted out there,” said Surtain Sr. “We have to cover some of the best athletes in the world backwards.”

Surtain Sr. long stopped officially training his son and now calls himself mostly fan and father, but it’s his natural instinct to see every game through the eyes of a cornerback.

“After the games, my dad tells me what I’ve done well and what wrong, so I can learn and grow from it,” said Surtain. “It’s always good to listen to someone who has played at a high and consistent level in the league for 11 years.”

Surtain Sr. studies other cornerbacks, but mostly focuses on his son. When Surtain enters the field and positions himself over a wide receiver, Surtain Sr. evaluates the offensive formation and the situation. Then he looks at his son. It’s a surgical look. From his own playing experience, he often knows where the piece is going and Surtain’s assignment. Every imaginable tendency of the quarterback and the route combinations used in the offensive were passed on from father to son.

“I can’t play for him, but I can hopefully give him some pointers that will help,” said Surtain Sr. “I think it’s more important to have a brain than a physical being in this game.”

At 6 feet-2, 203 pounds and a speed of 4.4 in the 40 yard run, Surtain is one of the most physically gifted players in his position in the NFL. His decision to focus on cornerback in his early teenage years now seems less tied to a specific moment than the natural advancement of his technique and mastery of the position. As a freshman in high school, he graduated from highly recruited wide receivers at an LSU soccer camp.

However, it takes more than physical toughness and skill to be successful as an NFL cornerback.

“They respond to high-end wide receivers without knowing what’s going to happen,” said Surtain. “So your technology has to be flawless. You need to be up to date in film studies. The Cornerback Brotherhood is so important because once you master this position, you can master anything. Knowing that you have people around you who are in a good position is like an eternal brotherhood. People expect a good receiver game, but because of its difficulty, you rarely see a great cornerback game. “

Like his father, Surtain is well versed in the habits and best practices of the position. He watches films by other cornerbacks: how they perform in zone and man-to-man coverage, and how they read and react to the movements of wide receivers and quarterbacks. His success on the soccer field is the culmination of all the exercises his father did for him for the first time as a child. Drills passed on to his father by other skilled artisans of the position.

Patrick Surtain # 23 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks at the scoreboard to watch the replay against the Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead Stadium on September 23, 2007 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Chiefs defeated the Vikings 13-10.

Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

“Dad walked me through the ladder and footwork exercises,” Surtain said. “As I got used to it, he added more to improve my game. The more I grew in the position, the more complex the exercises became. ”

After the games, Surtain often stops cornerbacks from opposing teams to talk shop.

“People who play in your position will respect you so I think talking to these certain great players is something that makes you more confident,” he said.

The evolution of passing play at every level of football has spawned an industry devoted to developing the next Surtain and Trevon Diggs, the cornerback of the Dallas Cowboys who played with Surtain in Alabama.

Clay Mack, 49, runs a Dallas-based skills academy that trains defensive backs from Pop Warner to the NFL. Mack, a former Mississippi state cornerback, guides 9- and 10-year-olds through many of the same exercises as his high school, college, and professional clients.

Mack worked with Surtain and Diggs when they were both in Alabama. For him, a great cornerback game allows the defensive coaches to exploit various aspects of their plan. For example, a defense has a lot of flexibility when a cornerback can defend a great receiver man-to-man and release a safety who shows up to support a run.

“You don’t want your corners to be a burden,” said Mack, who has worked with more than 75 NFL players including Jamal Adams, Marshon Lattimore and Jeff Okudah. “They want them to be assets. That’s why the training is so widespread now. “

Surtain is the kind of rangy cornerback who can play man coverage on an island, compete for 50-50 balls with large receivers, and support run defense. He’s bigger and faster than his father, but they share similar approaches to the game.

“I was more of a blast, playing both indoors and outdoors,” says Surtain Sr. “Pat is a smooth operator who does his business his own way. But our playing styles are very similar due to the technical aspect. I preach to him all the time, tech, tech, tech. If you have that, it will carry you at the end of the day. “

With two games remaining in the regular season, Surtain has four interceptions, which is best among the newbies to the NFL. With the exception of perhaps Micah Parsons, the Dallas Cowboys linebacker, few defensive rookies have had more of an impact on their teams than Surtain for the Broncos, but he doesn’t care about awards right now.

He’s just trying to focus on the basics that were taught to him by his father who got him into the NFL. “Papa,” said Surtain, “always says, be consistent, trust your technique, be physical, fly around and have fun.”

Farrell Evans has written about the intersection of golf and racing for Sports Illustrated, Golf Magazine, ESPN.COM, Bleacher Report, and The National. He co-hosts with PGA Tour veteran Bo Van Pelt of Both Sides of the Ball, a podcast that stimulates conversation about golf, culture, and everything in between.