ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Tight finish Albert Okwuegbunam did not have many snaps to be taught from in 2020.
After being inactive for the staff’s first 4 video games, he performed simply 86 snaps over the next 4 weeks earlier than his rookie season got here to a untimely finish.
But whereas the Missouri product misplaced out on a half of a season of reps after tearing his ACL in opposition to the Falcons in Week 9, the standard of these 86 snaps was sufficient to construct a basis for a possible breakthrough 12 months 2.
In his first recreation, a Week 6 matchup with the Patriots, he acquired six targets and caught a pair of passes for 45 yards. Okwuegbunam struggled with drops in that recreation earlier than recovering per week later, catching all seven of his targets for 60 yards in opposition to the Chiefs.
Okwuegbunam performed simply 25 % of the staff’s snaps the following week in opposition to the Chargers, however he realized how vital he might be to the staff’s offense. In a 21-point comeback, Okwuegbunam caught his lone profession landing and drew a pair of pass-interference penalties on the ultimate drive to arrange KJ Hamler’s go-ahead rating. The final penalty, which occurred in the long run zone, moved the ball to the 1-yard line, the place Drew Lock discovered discovered Hamler for the game-winner.
“That was a giant a part of final season, too — simply being in there within the ultimate moments when the sport was on the road to win that recreation,” Okwuegbunam stated Thursday. “Once we threw that Hail Mary, he threw it as much as me and simply getting that [pass interference], after which finally profitable the sport, that instilled loads of confidence in me and let me know that our employees and our coaches right here have loads of belief in me.”
The 6-foot-5, 258-pound participant is now again from damage, and in his first preseason motion, he seemed each bit the participant he was a 12 months in the past.
“He is simply picked up from the place he left off final 12 months,” Head Coach Vic Fangio stated Thursday. “Should you bear in mind final 12 months, he did not play a lot early, then he was beginning to play extra. [He was] taking part in [well], having success. He is simply picked up proper from the place he left off there. He is blocking [well]. He is a a lot better blocker than I believe individuals are conscious of. We all know he can catch, and he is a superb runner after the catch. I am actually enthusiastic about him.”
In his preseason debut in opposition to the Rams, Okwuegbunam caught three passes for 23 yards.
“It was big,” Okwuegbunam stated of getting taking part in time earlier than the season opener. “Follow is clearly extraordinarily useful, nevertheless it’s laborious to duplicate that in-game feeling so far as the nerves and pleasure and all that. I felt like that was good. Additionally, simply to get tackled once more — it was good.”
Okwuegbunam stated he wasn’t fascinated by his injured knee, and that appeared most evident when he tried to hurdle a Rams defender after making a catch.
“I really feel like that is a fairly good instance of how I am not even fascinated by it on the market,” Okwuegbunam stated. “The primary two occasions I acquired tackled, they simply dove at my leg. I advised myself the following time I catch the ball; I am leaping, and that is what I did. I am not fascinated by it in any respect.”
No matter Noah Fant’s availability in Week 1 — Fant has not practiced for almost two weeks, however Fangio has stated he expects him to be prepared — Okwuegbunam ought to play a bigger position for the Broncos’ offense. Whether or not in two tight-end units, as a blocker or within the passing recreation, Okwuegbunam believes he could make an affect.
“The video games that I did play — simply my potential to go on the market and make performs and be a mismatch on the market — that gave me the boldness rolling into this season that I can do these issues and I’ll do these issues,” Okwuegbunam stated. “So far as my ACL rehab has gone, I am simply expressing how I really feel on the market. It isn’t on my thoughts. You are taking that together with the performs that I made final 12 months, that is what instills the boldness in me this season.”
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