A player to know at Broncos training camp: Michael Ojemudia
Jul 25, 2022, 6:00 PM
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)
Michael Ojemudia wasn’t just a standout on the practice field this offseason. He flourished in the meeting room.
During the defensive backs’ meetings, the players would take part in Kahoot! quizzes to test their knowledge of the scheme and concepts. The games could get as intense as the action on the field.
In that environment, Ojemudia stood out.
“Oje, he’s pretty good, man. He’s real quick,” safety P.J. Locke said. “Him and Essang [Bassey] are normally always all the guys at the top. And it’s not that you don’t know it, it’s more like — how fast do you click the button.”
Quick thinking, quick reaction. Those are skills that help a cornerback on the field. Ojemudia showed that during his extensive work as a rookie in 2020, pressed into service due to an injury to then-starter A.J. Bouye. There were bumps, but he displayed palpable progress. The stats bore that out: after surrendering two touchdowns in Week 2 against Pittsburgh as a rookie, he allowed just one touchdown after that.
But a hamstring injury derailed his progress last year. The injury healed slowly. He didn’t finally play until Week 17 at Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the Broncos marched on. They signed Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller in the offseason. They drafted Pat Surtain II. All played extensively. Surtain’s emergence meant that when Fuller struggled, the Broncos didn’t need Ojemudia to sustain work on the back end.
“Now all of a sudden, you’re taking a back seat,” safety Justin Simmons said during OTAs.
Ojemudia had rehab sessions on the north field at UCHealth Training Center. During the open period of practice, one could see him working as his teammates practices. But he could only watch when it mattered for most of 2021.
“There was one game I was sitting out, against the Cowboys,” Ojemudia said, recalling Denver’s 30-16 Week 9 romp last year. Everybody was having fun, having a blast. I was happy for them, but I just wanted to get on the field.”
Ojemudia was there; he traveled with the team. But he spent most of the year watching in sweats and workout gear.
“It’s like when all of your friends are outside, and you’re inside,” he said.
That changed by the end of the season. He played 75 defensive snaps in the regular-season finale last January. Patrick Mahomes threw in his direction 13 times, and Ojemudia held his own. Mahomes had a forgettable 61.4 rating when targeting Ojemudia.
“I think that he played outstanding when we played the Chiefs at home in the last game of the year,” Simmons said. “I think it’s just a testament to his work ethic and the things that he is doing right.
And then, when OTAs arrived, the Broncos cycled Ojemudia in for frequent work while Ronald Darby took individual and mental repetitions.
“He’s really stepped up and really done a great job,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said during OTAs. “There has been a couple of instances when you have actually seen him getting better, just even through coaching.
“He’s had a couple breaks on some plays and he’s competing out of his mind.”
The growth was palpable.
“He’s gotten so much better,” defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said. “He’s really, really improved, which is good because we need a lot of depth at that position.”
Depth matters because at some point, an injury to one of the Broncos’ top three cornerbacks is inevitable. If Ojemudia solidifies his place as the No. 4 cornerback, he will get his opportunity at some point.
After a year staring into the injury abyss, he has more urgency than before.
“Just playing every game like it’s last and practicing every practice like it’s my last,” Ojemudia said. “It made me appreciate how much I love playing and how much I hate sitting out.
“… I want to make an impact, I want to be consistent this year, I want the coaches to know they can count on me.”
If he plays the way he did in Week 18 six months ago, they can.