Denver Broncos' head coach Vic Fangio orchestrated a complex and aggressive defensive game-plan against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday that ultimately resulted in an upset victory. The hardened defensive guru confused Dolphins' rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa, who went 11-of-20 for 83 yards and a touchdown, operating an offense that averaged 3.7 yards per play.
Miami eventually benched its promising signal-caller, which consequently gave Fangio another notch on his belt as a defensive coordinator going against rookie quarterbacks. Fangio is now 18-8 all-time against rookie signal-callers.
While New Orleans Saints' QB Taysom Hill isn’t a rookie, his limited sample size suggests that he can be a threat as both a passer and a rusher. The Saints have a rich wide receiver corps that features All-Pro Michael Thomas, Tre’Quan Smith, and ex-Bronco Emmanuel Sanders.
It will be all hands on deck for the Broncos' secondary, with the onus falling on top cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and A.J. Bouye. Undrafted rookie corner Essang Bassey will continue to play in nickel packages, which will leave fans questioning what happened to the premium third-round rookie corner Michael Ojemudia.
In all likelihood, the Broncos will face the Saints without Ojemudia. The last sighting of the rookie on the field was in Week 9's loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Against Atlanta's All-Pro wideout Julio Jones and Matt Ryan, Ojemudia struggled in coverage and on the perimeter, logging three tackles (two solo). Since then, the rookie third-rounder has been pulled from Fangio’s defense altogether, as Ojemudia didn't receive a single defensive snap in the last two games against the Las Vegas Raiders and Dolphins.
Rumblings around UC Health Training Center have lead to only one plausible theory: tackling woes are what's shaken Fangio’s confidence in the 6-foot-1, 199-pound Ojemudia. According to Pro Football Focus, Ojemudia has missed a total of 13 tackles in his first eight games as a pro, which directly violates Fangio’s core philosophy that ‘tackling is non-negotiable’ when it comes to defensive backs.
But can’t some of Ojemudia's mistakes be chalked up to the rookie learning curve?
After all, he has played 517 snaps this year, which is the second-most by any Broncos' rookie. With no OTAs and a canceled preseason due to the pandemic, as well as suffering minor injuries (he's healthy now), Ojemudia showed immediate potential in zone coverage which made him a natural fit for Fangio’s defense.
More than halfway through his rookie season, Ojemudia has logged 28 solo tackles, three passes defensed, and forced two fumbles. Following the Broncos' blowout loss to the Raiders, Fangio was asked about Ojemudia’s omission from the defensive game-plan.
“We just thought our best corner combination in that game would be to have Callahan and Bouye to play the corner spots full time based upon their receiver situation,” Fangio said. “Bassey has continued to progress as the nickel and we felt comfortable with him in there.”
Since then, there haven’t been any answers on why Ojemudia has been removed from Fangio’s defense. One can’t help but wonder how a rookie player is expected to improve his game — specifically tackling — without live-game experience.
It should come as no surprise that NFL practices in 2020 are glorified stretching sessions, without the traditional tackling drills and smash-mouth team periods of the old days.
Until No. 23 is seen back on the field defensively for the Orange and Blue, Broncos Country can only wonder why Ojemudia is seemingly in Fangio’s defensive doghouse.