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Omar Kelly: Dolphins cornerback Noah Igbinoghene gets second chance to make a better impression

The talent level has never been in question.

The blend of speed and athleticism is what motivated the Miami Dolphins to select Noah Igbinoghene as their final of three first-round picks, the 30th player selected in the 2020 NFL draft.

His work ethic is supposedly stellar. People who have worked with him have raved about it since his days at Auburn.

Unfortunately, Igbinoghene wasn’t able to turn that talent and work ethic into reliable play in his first two NFL seasons.

And when you’re a first-round pick the bar is set high, so those who fall short of contributing on a consistent basis as a high-level asset tend to fall into the potential bust category.

That’s the label Igbinoghene is flirting with heading into his third NFL training camp, and he’s not in denial about it, or his rough start.

“It’s an everyday process, so just keep going every single day and just get better,” said Igbinoghene, who has started three of the 27 games he’s played in the past two seasons. “That’s really my main focus. If I keep working, it’s going to turn out in my favor.”

Igbinoghene spent most of his young career in Brian Flores’ doghouse, but with the now fired head coach gone he’s been given a fresh start.

This spring Igbinoghene not only benefits from the clean slate provided to him by his new position coaches, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, two former standouts for the Dolphins, he’s also benefiting from the absence of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones during Phase 2 of organized team activates.

Those Dolphins veteran starters either aren’t healthy enough to participate this spring, or have decided to skip the voluntary workouts.

Howard has traditionally worked with his own trainers during the offseason, and Jones is rehabbing a leg injury he had surgically operated on this offseason.

Their absence creates an opportunity for Igbinoghene, Nik Needham and a host of other young cornerbacks like Trill Williams and Quincy Wilson who get to line up against Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle during Miami’s 11-on-11 sessions, and 7-on-7 work, the sessions where offensive players line up against defenders.

If you believe in the iron-sharpens-iron mentality towards training, facing off against a six-time Pro Bowler like Hill, and Waddle, the receiver who just set an NFL rookie record for receptions in 2021, should be beneficial from a development standpoint.

“You’re like, ‘Ah damn, he’s fast on film,’ but then when you really get right in front of him it’s like ‘Oh man.’ Those two definitely have a different speed,” Needham said referring to Hill and Waddle’s speed, which has been clocked in the 22 mile per hour range during practices and games. “It’s going to be great this year to just work versus that every day because it’s like, nobody is going to be faster than these two. If we win versus them, we should win a lot.”

The last time Igbinoghene got to showcase himself with the Dolphins’ first-team defense things didn’t go so well.

During the two weeks Howard, the team’s Pro Bowl cornerback, was playing hardball with the franchise and sitting out practices while the team and his camp negotiated a restructured contract, the Dolphins gave Igbinoghene, an extensive run with the starters.

But the Howard-less secondary was consistently getting carved up by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and his backups, and it seemed as if Igbinoghene was the main course.

His struggles got so bad that midway through the second week of practice he was demoted from the first-team to the third-team defense.

Igbinoghene sparingly played on defense last season, despite injuries members of the secondary were nursing throughout the year. There were even times players called up from the practice squad played ahead of him.

The hope is that the work and coaching he’s receiving now will help him become more technically sound as a cornerback. But only time, and passes defended will tell us how that venture is going.

The big question is whether a comfortable Igbinoghene will be a productive one.

Or will the Dolphins need to toss him in the wasted draft pick pile?


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