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Chris Harris Jr.: Time for Broncos to prove they have a 'top secondary'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Seems just when Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. finds a way to check off another box on the list of things people said he couldn’t do, another item appears along the way.

Harris was an undrafted player who first carved out a roster spot with the Broncos, then carved out a starting spot, then became an elite player at his position, earning a Pro Bowl nod last season.

And yet, still, when folks make lists of the top players in the league, he doesn’t often find his way onto them. As was the case this offseason when the league’s own media arm unveiled a list that didn’t include Harris among the NFL’s top 100 players.

“I always feel like I’ve come the long way,’’ Harris said. “We know what this team can do. I know what I can do, we know what this defense can do, and we know what the secondary can do. Now, we just have to go out and show people, handle our business. But no doubt, I think we have what could be a top secondary. Now we have to go out and do it.’’

The Broncos do have the kind of secondary to play any kind of coverage defensive coordinator Wade Phillips wants to play in the coming season. The team is deep at corner and overall has three defensive backs -- Harris, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward -- who played in the Pro Bowl this past January.

As Phillips said: “Now, that’s a good start.’’

And with just three days before training camp opens, we continue a position-by-position look at where things stand with the team.

Today: Defensive backs.

Tuesday: Special teams.

How many coming to camp: 16.

How many the Broncos will keep: The Broncos are deep in this position group, so there may not be much room for a surprise when the roster goes to 53 players just before the regular season. But they project to nine defensive backs overall.

Harris, Talib and Bradley Roby are the top three cornerbacks with Kayvon Webster having worked as the No. 4 during the offseason workouts. Rookie Lorenzo Doss was consistently around the ball in the OTAs and minicamps and if the Broncos keep five cornerbacks as expected, Doss should make a push to be the fifth cornerback.

Ward and new arrival Darian Stewart worked as the starting safeties in the offseason program with David Bruton Jr., who has been the team’s special-teams captain, and Omar Bolden as the backups.

Bolden can also play cornerback if needed and is expected to be the team’s kickoff returner.

The guy to watch: Roby played 75 percent of the team’s defensive snaps as a rookie and the Broncos only want that total to go up. So much so, Phillips and coach Gary Kubiak have each discussed playing Roby at safety in the base defense to get him on the field more.

The Broncos are expected to add to Roby's duties at some point in training camp, but Phillips had said he wanted Roby to concentrate on learning his responsibilities at cornerback in the new defense first. But Roby showed all of the attributes of a future starter as a rookie and the Broncos believe he can give them the ability to play in the nickel (five defensive backs) in a variety of situations and still be able to defend the line of scrimmage in the run game if needed.

Break it down: Tony Carter is entering his seventh NFL season and has been the depth player in the team’s secondary in recent seasons. But after Harris, Talib, Roby and Webster -- all but Talib are homegrown Broncos -- the fifth spot will be competitive.

Doss, a fifth-round selection in this year’s draft, had 15 interceptions in his career at Tulane -- only Mississippi’s Senquez Golson had more in this year’s draft with 16. And Doss showed a knack for getting himself to the ball in the offseason workouts

Curtis Marsh, who has played 26 games in three previous NFL seasons, is a player who showed some potential in the defense as well.

“But we can play however we need to, play man, zone, whatever we need to do,’’ Harris said. “We want teams to look at us and have a hard time deciding what to do.’’