The Denver Broncos have had a knack for finding those diamonds in the rough.
It was Chris Harris who broke out two years ago. It was Wesley Woodyard shining bright in 2012. This season will it be safety Duke Ihenacho who makes a name for himself as an undrafted rookie?
Ihenacho quickly started working with the starters during the first week of camp with plays like an interception run back for a touchdown and knocking the ball out of Demaryius Thomas’ hands in the end zone.
That’s why for both the team scrimmage and the first preseason game, Ihenacho has lined up next to Rahim Moore at strong safety.
In his first NFL start, Ihenacho racked up seven tackles, including three solo tackles on Denver’s first series. He added a forced fumble (recovered by Moore) and a pass defensed as well, all in the first half of play.
The proof is in the
pudding play. Ihenacho is known for coming out of the building at camp making bird calls. The fans holler back at him with the same call. It’s good to see a guy like that back his play up with more than his voice.
“I see him do it every day in practice,” Champ Bailey said. “It’s not a surprise to me. It’s going to be a surprise to a lot of people, but he hadn’t played a lot in this league. He’s coming on. He’s a guy who’s grown up a lot. He knows how to play the safety position. I look forward to seeing him play all year.”
“He played fantastic,” Moore added. “It was his debut. He did exactly what he’s been doing in practice. He’s been flying around, making tackles and plays. Every time you saw him, he was flying in and making the plays. He’s come into his own.”
Ihenacho spent most of last season on the Broncos’ practice squad (He played in two games as a rookie on special teams). In his first start, he got to play in front of friends and family. He’s from San Mateo, CA and went to school at San Jose State where he had 268 tackles and 7 interceptions, including 3 defensive scores (2 INT, 1 fumble recovery).
Ihenacho didn’t start playing tackle football until his junior year of high school. Don’t mistake “late bloomer” for “slow learner” though. Ihenacho was arguably the best performer of the night.
Candlestick Park prepares to close its doors for good after this season. On the same grounds where Willie Mays and Joe Montana provided some of baseball’s and football’s greatest performances, Duke got his start. The setting was fitting. The Beatles played their last concert at The ‘Stick.
If Ihenacho were in attendance, I’m sure he would have been singing “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
And that he is just that for the Broncos early on.