Ihenacho's fast rise on Broncos' depth chart

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
11:15
AM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- NFL training camps are filled with August heroes, players tabbed as head-turners, on the move or with rising stock, only to be sent on their way when September arrives.

But as the Broncos move toward the preseason opener, the player who has covered the most distance on the depth chart in camp's early going is safety Duke Ihenacho. Ihenacho, who spent most of the 2012 season on the Broncos' practice squad -- he played in two games on special teams -- has steadily elevated his status throughout offseason workouts and is now taking snaps with the defensive starters at times.

[+] EnlargeDuke Ihenacho
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJack Del Rio, who played at USC, has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Lane Kiffin.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has made "eye discipline" a must for the defensive backs -- keep their attention where it needs to be, instead of peaking at the quarterback -- and playing the ball when the opportunity is there.

Players on the back end are losing snaps and their jobs if they don't adhere to those things. And Ihenacho has done them well enough to take regular work with the starters in the early going.

"I think I'm better just because of confidence," Ihenacho said. "I've spent some time here, I'm playing faster, confident I know what I'm doing."
The 6-foot-1, 207-pounder has been physical enough in run defense and active enough in coverage to now be paired with Rahim Moore in the base defense. With a scrimmage Saturday before next week's preseason opener in San Francisco, it is an important time for Ihenacho to keep his momentum as he has displaced veterans Mike Adams and Quentin Jammer in the rotation at safety on early downs.

Ihenacho is also another find for the Broncos' scouting department, which has made a habit of reeling in undrafted players who eventually find roles, often on a playoff roster. The team has had at least one undrafted rookie make the cut to 53 before the regular-season opener nine consecutive years.
That total includes current defensive regulars Wesley Woodyard and Chris Harris. Ihenacho didn't make the cut to 53 last season, but he did spend four weeks on the active roster.

Del Rio has repeatedly promised to use all available players if they can find a way to do the jobs the way he wants them done. The safety position has seen a pile of players get snaps with the starters in various situations, including Moore, Ihenacho, Adams and David Bruton.

"We'll find roles for people and we want to find out right now what they can do and what, maybe, gives them a little trouble so we maximize what we have," Del Rio said. "I think they learned last season when I said a lot of people would have roles on defense and that's exactly what we did."

Jeff Legwold

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter

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