Dolphins’ Igbinoghene focused on staying present after early struggles. ‘It’s a process’

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·4 min read
David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com
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In the approximately one-hour practice for the Dolphins organized team activities Tuesday, cornerback Noah Igbinoghene provided one of the highlights of the afternoon.

In 11-on-11 team drills, he broke on a short pass from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and deflected the ball, a play that got the admiration of his defensive teammates on the field. They quickly rushed to Igbinoghene, slapping him on the helmet and congratulating him.

Moments such as that have been few and far between for Igbinoghene. But those around him are hopeful that a breakthrough of sorts is in store for the No. 30 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

“It’s starting off really good,” Igbinoghene, 22, said after practice. “We’re in OTAs right now. It’s an everyday process, so just keep going every single day and just get better. That’s really my main focus. If I keep working, it’s going to turn out in my favor. ... It’s a process. It’s not going to happen so fast. I’ve got to be patient with myself and this team as well.”

Igbinoghene appeared in all 16 games as a rookie and made two starts when Byron Jones was injured but struggled in extensive action. In 2021, his defensive snaps plummeted from 287 to 78 and he didn’t play in 10 games. Despite limited playing time last season, Igbinoghene said it hasn’t been hard to put his shortcomings behind him and focus on the future.

“I’ve always had a strong mental, especially how I grew up with my parents,” he said. “They’ve always been really hard on me discipline-wise. That’s not something I really worry about. Like coach said, football will humble you real quick. It’s really learning that. Being in the league is a whole different experience than being in college. You might not get humbled like that [in college].

“So in the league, you have to be able to wipe off the bad plays and wipe off the good plays because you have to come back again and do it again. It’s really been about consistency. It’s not really about doing it one play. That’s really what my focus is. It’s about being consistent on a day-to-day basis and a play-to-play basis. Just doing that time after time after time. If I do that, something beautiful will happen.”

With Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain Sr. joining the Dolphins defensive coaching staff, Igbinoghene has a new pair of tutors with a fresh perspective.

“I love them, especially I feel like there is definitely a lot of experience in the room,” Igbinoghene said. “Not saying that there wasn’t last year, but those guys played the position and they played at a high level. Just to be able to learn — they are great teachers as well. I’m blessed to be able to learn from them.”

Madison, the team’s cornerbacks coach/pass game specialist, praised Igbinoghene’s work ethic during the offseason workout program and said he’s in a “very good place.”

“The one thing that I’’ll say: he’s been here, he’s been working his tail off,” Madison said last week. “He’s here, the first one in the building, and normally the last one to leave. So, I really like that part from him. But, he’s working extremely hard. His time is going to come. With ‘X’ and Byron being down, it gives him an opportunity to go out there and work with the 1s. It’s just been really good just to be able to watch him and see how he’s asking questions and then just going and applying the things that I’m trying to tell him and still playing within the scheme of the defense.

“He has some talent. He has some speed. Now, we’ve just got to get him up to speed and hopefully be able to get him in some games and hopefully those things can come out and show.”

Coach Mike McDaniel said several established veterans wouldn’t be practicing during the voluntary sessions this spring. With Howard not practicing Tuesday and Jones recovering from offseason leg surgery, it could mean more extended snaps for Igbinoghene, a player who, while inexperienced at the position, has frequently been lauded for his physical traits. And though he faces an uphill battle to crack the starting lineup, an encouraging showing during OTAs and training camp could give the Dolphins more security and confidence at a position that’s instrumental to what they do on defense.

“Noah has a high motor, super competitive,” cornerback Nik Needham said. “Every day he’s bringing it, no matter what. If it’s a little drill, like I have to do a little receiver drill, he’s going to go full speed. You have nothing but to respect that. I respect his game and he’s getting more comfortable out there.”

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