Waiting Is The Hardest Part
New TE Okwuegbunam Adjusted To Surroundings, Waiting For Playing Time
At some point over the summer, Albert Okwuegbunam had acknowledged his realization that making the Denver Broncos for a fourth consecutive season would be an arduous, if not improbable, task.
But rather than languish in a prolonged melancholy haze, Okwuegbunam’s newfound focus orbited around the showcasing of his inherent traits to 31 other teams as the final grains of sand funneled through the hourglass of his uneven Broncos tenure.
Okwuegbunam in 26 career games (7 starts) accrued just 54 receptions for 546 yards and four touchdowns and found himself buried behind starter Greg Dulcich and run-blocking merchants Chris Manhertz and Adam Trautman, both of which were hand-picked by newly minted head coach Sean Payton.
“I kinda knew that my odds of making the team was kind of an uphill battle,” the first-year Eagles tight end reflected Thursday. “So, my biggest goal was just to do everything I could to showcase my ability to the team, to other teams. And that’s ultimately what I did.”
Amid the NFL’s league-wide cutdown day, almost as if on cue, Okwuegbunam – a 2020 fourth-round pick – was informed that the team intended to move in a different direction.
An hour later, Okwuegbunam received a call notifying him that he had been traded to Philadelphia.
“First thing you talk about Albert, you talk about the physical ability,” said Howie Rosmean, Eagles executive vice president/general manager, shortly after the trade. “He is 6-foot-5. He is almost 260 pounds. He runs a 4.4. He’s got a huge wingspan. He has really good lower body flexibility for a big guy.
“We had a chance to watch him together, and obviously Coach [Nick Sirianni] has had tremendous success with that position and some guys who look like this. So, bring him in here. He is 25 years old. We have some people in the building who were with Denver when they drafted him and give him an opportunity.
“For us, any time we have an opportunity to add an offensive player that we think can help us and help our team we look at that, so that’s the reason we brought him in.”
With his immediate future turned on its axis, Okwuegbunam, 25, hastily hopped onto a flight to Philadelphia that same day.
By morning, the 6-foot-5 tight end had cleared his physical and reported to team headquarters for practice.
The cascading influx of information occurred almost instantly, including a succession of long days within the first couple weeks of arrival, but Okwuegbunam established a regimen in hopes of fast-tracking his path to playing time.
“There were some days in the beginning, some weeks,” Okweugbenam admitted. “Our coach J-Mike (Jason Michael) – he’s really good, that’s why I’m really thankful for him being so dedicated and such a great coach – we get here early, but then before we meet, we would go over things and then I would stay late after. So, some really long days in the first couple weeks, but now I’m pretty good with everything.”
Okwuegbunam spoke glowingly of Michael, who’s been an instrumental figure in developing dynamic sixth-year tight end Dallas Goedert and crucial reserves Jack Stoll and Grant Calcaterra, citing Michael’s knack for relating to players and keeping meetings lighthearted while also possessing a delicate, nuanced balance, ensuring his high standards are routinely met and complacency is combated.
While Okwuegbunam boasts a rare blend of size and athleticism – traits that set him apart from Stoll and Calcaterra – the fourth-year tight end has been relegated to the team’s weekly inactive list as he waits his turn.
With Stoll serving a crucial game day role as the room’s resident blocking specialist, and with Calcaterra providing depth as a pass-catcher and contributing on special teams, there hasn’t been an opportunity yet to shoehorn Okwuegbunam into the mix.
But that’s not to say the Broncos castoff hasn’t gotten up to speed after arriving just over four weeks ago.
“Luckily, I’m going into my fourth year,” Okwuegbunam said. “It’s kind of crazy, but this has been my fourth offense in four years. So, I’m kind of used to learning new offenses, just with all the different changes in Denver and stuff like that.
“In that sense, it’s helped me. With this being my fourth offense, I kind of got a process to learning offense. A lot of offenses are kind of the same, just like different terminology, philosophies, and stuff like that. So, it wasn’t too bad learning.”
But the Eagles didn’t acquire Okwuegbunam – a pending free agent in 2024 – merely to eat up practice reps and patrol the sideline on gameday.
The Missouri product is here because he was identified as being an upside-laden complementary piece, with an enticing year remaining on his rookie deal.
In Okwuegbunam’s words, it’s his mismatch ability that warrants the intrigue.
“I’m going against linebackers and safeties,” Okwuegbunam explained. “I’m gonna be as fast or faster. And then if I’m going against smaller DBs, I might give up my speed, but I’ll be bigger.
“So, it’s kind of that mismatch ability in the pass game. Also, the strides I’ve made in the run game as well. My ability to block has greatly improved. I had some good blocks in the preseason.”
It’s difficult to fathom the Eagles dressing four tight ends on gameday, and perhaps just as unlikely to envision Okwuegbunam leap-frogging Calcaterra in the pecking order barring special teams involvement, which remains an undeveloped facet of Okwuegbunam’s game prior to experimenting with special teams snaps in the preseason.
Okwuegbunam also alluded to his continued third-phase growth, assuming quality reps on teams during practice.
When the time is right, Okwuegbunam will presumably be afforded every opportunity to parlay his yearlong audition into something more permanent.
Until then, though, the player who not long ago garnered much anticipation upon arrival remains an unexplored entity.
“It’s different,” Okwuegbunam said. “Obviously, [I’m] grateful to be on this team and get a great opportunity here. But it’s just a challenge in a different sense; not as much physical on Sundays, but more of a mental thing, just making sure I’m staying prepared and everything.
“As far as practice goes, just keeping the same regimen as if I was playing on Sunday. And that’s just practicing every rep hard and getting in the gel of things.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.