In Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers, they looked like a team trying to decide what it will do without Callahan. The Broncos played some mix-and-match looks in the secondary that allowed De'Vante Bausby to scrap his way into the lineup.
"We just got to keep working, find those combinations that work," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. " ... You just have to make it hard on the quarterbacks in regards to where they want to go with the ball. We have to keep doing that with everybody that's in there."
The Broncos had big plans for Callahan, who signed for three years and $21 million in free agency. He was going to play on the outside, far more than he did during his time with Broncos coach Vic Fangio when both were with the Chicago Bears.
Callahan on the outside would allow the Broncos to move Harris and Kareem Jackson around, offering a variety of options to Fangio when he called the coverages. But Callahan has been troubled by a screw in his surgically repaired left foot -- he suffered a fracture with the Bears in December -- and the possibility of surgery to repair the issue has not been ruled out by the Broncos.
Callahan did not play in the preseason and has not played in any of the Broncos' first three games. Asked Monday if he had any update on Callahan's progress, Fangio said, "not yet." Asked last week if more time was needed for pain to subside in Callahan's foot or if Callahan needed more conditioning before he could increase his practice participation, Fangio said, "Yeah, [pain] is a big part of it."
Until Sunday's loss, the Broncos had looked content to let second-year cornerback Isaac Yiadom hold down the spot until Callahan is ready to play. Yiadom played 114 of the 115 defensive snaps in the first two games. But Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and, in the early going Sunday, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers all zeroed in on Yiadom's side of the field.
On Sunday, Bausby was part of a concerted effort by Fangio to get more people involved in Callahan's absence. Bausby, who is one of the Broncos' fastest players and nothing if not resilient, given that he has been waived 11 times in his career to go with a stint in the Alliance of American Football, replaced Yiadom in the second quarter.
"I'm not sure what those guys are thinking about upstairs, but I definitely want another opportunity again, so if they are looking for a solution, hopefully I am that solution," Bausby said.
Bausby ended up with 41 snaps against the Packers and led the team with two passes defensed.
"I love Baus, man," Harris said. "I thought he had great energy, he has great ball skills, he reminds me of [former Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie], I love his game. As long as he comes in well prepared, he always has a chance to make some plays."
The Broncos also used safety Trey Marshall, who made the roster as an undrafted rookie, for two snaps and cornerback Duke Dawson, who arrived in a trade with the Patriots just before the regular season, for two snaps as well. As Dawson gets more comfortable with the defensive scheme, he could see more playing time in some combination with Bausby and Yiadom.
The Broncos' five games before their bye feature quarterbacks Gardner Minshew, Philip Rivers, Marcus Mariota, Patrick Mahomes, Jacoby Brissett and Baker Mayfield. The Broncos need better answers at cornerback if Callahan continues to be out of the lineup. For the moment, Bausby has likely earned a longer look.
"He did fine," Fangio said. "He had some really nice plays, broke up a couple passes. He has some plays that he needs to fix. He had some plays that could potentially have been big plays for them, but they didn't find them, so he has to correct them now that they're on tape. He could have tackled better in a couple instances, but overall he took advantage of his opportunity, and that's why we left him out there."