SAN FRANCISCO – **For the first time in safety Duke Ihenacho's career, he was listed as a starter for an NFL game on Thursday night. The fact that it was a preseason game didn't stop him from putting a up a big-time performance.
He was effective in stopping both the pass and the run as he led the team with seven tackles, all unassisted, broke up a pass and forced a fumble.
"He played fantastic," fellow safety Rahim Moore said. "It was his debut. He did exactly what he's been doing in practice. He's been flying around, making tackles and plays. Every time you saw him, he was flying in and making the plays. He's come into his own.
"At the end of the day, his hard work is showing."
In the second quarter of the 10-6 win in San Francisco, Ihenacho wrapped up 49ers wide receiver A.J. Jenkins and punched the ball free for Moore to recover. That was the second of four turnovers forced by the Broncos in the game.
Ihenacho has been equally notable in training camp, being boisterous and also pesky to quarterbacks as he has come away with a few interceptions at Dove Valley.
Given those performances, Thursday night wasn't all that shocking.
"I see him do it every day in practice. It's not a surprise to me," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "It's going to be a surprise to a lot of people, but he hadn't played a lot in this league. He's coming on. He's a guy who's grown up a lot. He knows how to play the safety position. I look forward to seeing him play all year."
Head Coach John Fox said that Ihenacho tackled well and handled all of his assignments well, but Ihenacho said he felt like he could have performed better.
"I think I left some things out there that I wish I had back," Ihenacho said. "But we'll take care of that this week in practice."
He acknowledged that he felt comfortable under the lights but that his ability to make plays was contingent on his coaches having him in the right spot and his teammates having confidence in him.
Though his performances in training camp earned him a spot in the starting lineup Thursday night, he's not sure that's where he'll stay. But he's planning on continuing to work to try to ensure that he stays right where he is on the depth chart.
"I'm not going to make that decision," he said. "All I can do is keep working, come to practice every day and try to show them what I can do."