The first stop interim Broncos head coach Jerry Rosburg made during the open portion of his first official practice in charge last Wednesday was to the tight end group.
He watched assistant coach Jake Moreland work — and complimented him later in the week — and spent a couple of minutes focused specifically on third-year man Albert Okwuegbunam.
Okwuegbunam had become something of a forgotten player during this lost season, relegated to the inactive list when Denver’s other four tight ends were healthy and to the bench on the occasions when he made the gameday roster.
He had five catches in the Broncos’ season opener against Seattle and then just two over the next four weeks as his playing time dwindled. When rookie Greg Dulcich was ready to play in Week 6, Okwuegbunam was inactive for seven straight games.
Former head coach Nathaniel Hackett didn’t trust the former Missouri standout in the blocking game and then his skillset became redundant with Dulcich’s, the team’s 2022 third-round draft pick.
No surprise, then, what Rosburg wanted to work on with Okwuegbunam last Wednesday.
“We were working some blocking drills at the beginning of the week,” Okwuegbunam said Sunday after Denver’s 27-24 loss at Kansas City. “He wanted to see me go at some drills, go against some teammates and he was happy with what he saw and so he ultimately decided to give me some opportunities coming into this game.”
Indeed, he got them.
Okwuegbunam played 37 out of 70 snaps, most among the Broncos’ tight ends, in part because Dulcich was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury but also because Rosburg identified him as a player that needed a second chance.
“I have been in Albert O’s ear all week long because I think he is a highly talented individual,” Rosburg said. “I haven’t seen him much on the field this year, and I’m just curious as to why that was because he is a good-looking athlete.
“You may have seen me in the tight end drills earlier in the week. It was for a reason. I was happy he turned it about.”
It didn’t all go perfectly for Okwuegbunam at Arrowhead Stadium. Targeted six times, he dropped two passes in the first half. He rebounded nicely, though, hauling in a 25-yard touchdown from quarterback Russell Wilson in the third quarter. Okwuegbunam finished with three catches for a team-high 45 yards.
“Whatever jitters he might have had, it seemed to me like he settled down because he is a big, talented guy, and he needs to play and play well,” Rosburg said.
It was a long time coming for a player who entered training camp figuring to be a central part of the Denver offense but quickly found himself on the outside looking in.
“It’s huge. Obviously, it’s unfortunate the way things have happened this season,” he said. “A lot of things have happened that are out of my control, but I just made the decision to come to work every day, work hard and keep a positive mindset. I knew I’d get another opportunity at some point and that was (Sunday). I’m glad I could have a good outcome.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get the win but I’m proud of our guys and how we fought.”
Okwuegbunam has 10 catches for 95 yards on the season and has played in seven games. He has 2023 remaining on his rookie contract and joins Dulcich as the only Broncos tight ends tied to the team beyond the end of this season. Veterans Eric Tomlinson, Eric Saubert and Andrew Beck are among Denver’s 17 players set to become unrestricted free agents.
The Broncos on Tuesday signed offensive lineman Will Sherman to the active roster from their practice squad, according to his agent, Mike McCartney. Sherman, a former University of Colorado lineman, was a sixth-round draft pick of New England in 2021 and signed to Denver’s practice squad in September.