MIAMI -- Dolphins cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, the No. 30 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, got his first real action in Week 2 of his rookie season, in place of injured teammate Byron Jones. It was a tough outing, as Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen completed 8 of 12 passes when targeting Igbinoghene for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Two weeks later, the rookie received the same treatment from Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who passed for 115 yards and a touchdown when challenging Igbinoghene in Miami's 31-23 loss. After playing 87.8% of the team's defensive snaps over the first four weeks of the season, Igbinoghene played just 54 total defensive snaps in the Dolphins' final 12 games.
His sideline stay extended into the 2021 season, during which he has been a healthy scratch behind Jones and Xavien Howard in four of Miami's first six games; it's been an experience that has forced him to adopt a new mentality and approach to the game.
"You have to make a decision to just come in to work no matter what's going on," Igbinoghene said. "Some things you just can't control. ... You can control your effort, you can control how hard you go and just going full-out every single day. Don't focus on the negative things and keep a positive mindset and positive mind at all times."
Igbinoghene got the opportunity to apply that on the field, as he earned his first start of the season in Week 6 -- a 23-20 loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was the nearest defender on nine pass attempts, resulting in seven completions for 105 yards and a touchdown, and was also matched up with Jaguars receiver Laviska Shenault on his 9-yard reception to set up the winning field goal.
But Igbinoghene's performance was more inspiring than the numbers suggest.
"I thought Noah did some good things. I thought he tackled more efficiently," Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. "Obviously he had the two balls caught on him. I thought he was in good position on both of them. We just talked about going up and being more aggressive to try to get it out of him.
"I think [Marvin] Jones made a couple of good plays on him. But overall, I thought he did some good things and filled in competitively."
On Shenault's catch, for instance, Flores said his instruction to the team was to play the sideline -- which Igbinoghene did before allowing the slant. And he was in good position on a 28-yard touchdown pass he allowed to Jones about a minute before halftime. The play had an 18.7% completion probability, and Igbinoghene allowed just 0.9 yards of separation at the time of completion, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
Igbinoghene said he's getting a better feel for the game, specifically the speed of games compared to practices. But both Flores and defensive coordinator Josh Boyer say the next step forward for him is making more plays on the ball.
"The touchdown I would say at the line, I probably could have widened him out a little more and that probably would have allowed me to be in a better position at the end of the play," the 5-foot-11 Igbinoghene said of Jones, who is listed at 6-foot-2. "I kind of opened the gate at the beginning allowing him to run. No, he didn't run past me or anything like that but he's a tall guy, so if he gets in front of you, if he gets that position on you, it's easy for him to make that play ... Just getting my head around and finding the ball as fast as possible and playing it of course. I'm going to work on that this week and I can't wait to improve on that part."
With Byron Jones and Howard both practicing this week, Igbinoghene might not see the same rep count he did Sunday, when he played all 66 of the Dolphins' defensive snaps. He also appeared as questionable on Friday's injury report due to a knee injury.
But even if he doesn't play, the experience in Week 6 reminded him once again to always prepare as if his number will be called.
"It was fun. I love playing. I love being out there with my team," Igbinoghene said. "What was it like? It was honestly just the same thing, just continuing to prepare every single week no matter if I was inactive or not. That's going to be the same way moving forward no matter what happens."