JERSEY CITY, N.J. – As the cliche' goes, it's not whether you fall down, it's how you get back up. Duke Ihenacho experienced that in December, losing every-down responsibilities, but by the AFC Championship was back to his previous, every-down role.
"It meant a lot to play every down," he said. "It kind of hurt not playing every down, and when I finally got back in the rotation, every snap felt good."
Ihenacho advanced back to full responsibility in stages. He started at Houston and for the following two games playing mostly on base package downs, then against the Patriots was in the role he held for Weeks 1-12, excepting the Week 10 game at San Diego he missed to injury.
Ihenacho played all but three snaps against the Patriots Jan. 19 after seeing his workload fluctuate during the Broncos' four December games before increasing to 71 percent of the snaps in the divisional-round win over the San Diego Chargers.
"I felt like I belonged there, so I kind of had to reset myself and get back to how I was playing before: just playing fast," Ihenacho said.
With Ihenacho seeing a reduced workload, Omar Bolden saw more work in the regular season, with Michael Huff and David Bruton seeing increased work in the regular-season finale and the San Diego win Jan. 12. Huff and Bruton saw some spot duty primarily in dime and seven-defensive back packages in the AFC Championship, but the burden was on Ihenacho, and he responded.
To his credit, Ihenacho did not mope when he was given a less-extensive role, in part because of teammates' counsel.
"I'm pretty mature and a lot of veterans just pulled me aside and said, 'Just be true to yourself. Do your thing and everything will be fine.' It happens to a lot of people, but you can't let stuff like that break you," he said.
"I think I'm just more consistent now and my preparation's a little better. So I see things clearer, and I'm not in a rush, and I'm back to playing fast."