The hits just keep coming to the Broncos, who will be without tight end Albert Okwuegbunam for the rest of the season due to an ACL tear in his right knee.
Coach Vic Fangio confirmed the news Monday, a day after the Broncos fell to 3-5 with a 34-27 loss in Atlanta. Okwuegbunam’s injury ends a promising rookie season as he posted 11 catches for 121 yards with a touchdown in four games after starting slowly due to a hip injury late in training camp.
“The fortunate thing of it was, it was just the ACL and the ACL only, and many times when you get an ACL injury, it involves some other ligaments (like the MCL),” Fangio said. “His rehab and repair should go clean and he should be back as good as new next season.”
The injury occurred on Okwuegbunam’s lone catch Sunday, a 7-yard reception to move the chains on 3rd-and-6 midway through the third quarter. The 22-year-old immediately clutched his knee after he was tackled by Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell and defensive tackle Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, and left the game.
Okwuegbunam’s injury leaves depth questions at a position where the Broncos had ample bodies during the preseason. Noah Fant and Nick Vannett were the only active tight ends after Jake Butt and Andrew Beck were recently placed on injured reserve, both with hamstring injuries.
“It’s hard to point to one or two things as to why (so many injuries) have happened,” Fangio said. “Guys didn’t train here all offseason, and we didn’t see them until training camp. Is that part of it? I don’t know. Shortened preseason, no preseason games? I don’t know. In each and every case, it’s something different, but you can’t pinpoint one or two (causes) right now.”
Fant, meanwhile, was tended to for an ankle injury against the Falcons, and missed the Week 6 game in New England, also due to an ankle injury. The second-year pro has 32 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns this season while Vannett has six catches for 44 yards in seven games.
Down to just two tight ends — Denver had seven on the depth chart in training camp — the Broncos have brought back Troy Fumagalli, Denver’s fifth-round draft pick in 2018 out of Wisconsin. Fumagalli was waived Sept. 5. He had six catches for 38 yards and one touchdown in 2019 after spending his entire rookie season on injured reserve.
“We’ll see what kind of shape he’s in, and get him through the COVID protocols, and see if it’s a good fit right now,” Fangio said. “He’s definitely a guy we’ll look at right now.”
Okwuegbunam’s inevitable placement on injured reserve will make for the 17th Denver player placed on that list this season (including players who have returned), but Fangio does not make excuses regarding his lack of healthy personnel.
“You just have to deal with it,” Fangio said. “A good carpenter doesn’t blame his tools — he’s got to go find a way to go get the job done, and that’s my mindset…. It’s my job to find a way to get the solutions that will lead us to a win.”
In good news on the injury and COVID front, Fangio is “hopeful” that starting cornerbacks A.J. Bouye (concussion) and Bryce Callahan (foot) can return for Sunday’s road game in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Fangio is also hopeful that right guard Graham Glasgow (missed last two games) and defensive end Shelby Harris (missed the Atlanta game) will be cleared to return to practice this week after both were placed on the COVID/Restricted list.
Meanwhile, Fangio didn’t have any further update on right tackle Demar Dotson, who did not play in the second half Sunday due to a hip injury. Jake Rodgers played 51 snaps in his stead as stability at that position is an issue for Denver. Projected Week 1 starter Ja’Wuan James opted out, and Week 1 starter Elijah Wilkinson suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 3.