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RICHMOND — Duke Ihenacho has missed almost two full years of football now.
He might be the most experienced Redskins safety. But that alone won’t get him a starting assignment. Just being in training camp is a victory for a player who made it to only Week 3 in 2014 with a broken heel and fractured his wrist in Week 1 last season.
“I know with a lot of guys, man, it’s very hard. They don’t get the opportunity that I got,” Ihenacho said. “After two injuries in a row, man, they kind of just part ways. But for the team to just still have faith in me and still bring me back says a lot about our front office and I’m grateful for it.”
That wasn’t a given for Ihenacho, who finds himself second on the depth chart at strong safety behind David Bruton, Jr. – a former teammate with the Denver Broncos. It remained that way on Day 4 of training camp on Monday. But Ihenacho isn’t sweating his position. He’s been through too much to worry about a little camp competition.
“They’re both physical players. Duke can run a little bit more,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said. “But they’re both exciting players and they’re both trying to find their way. It’s going to be an interesting competition. I imagine both of them are going to play a lot, so I’m not really worried about who starts – they’re both going to play a lot and they’re both good players.”
That alone is gratifying for Ihenacho to hear. He fractured his heel bone in a Sept. 21 game at Philadelphia just three games into that season. Last year he didn’t make it out of Week 1 when he fractured and dislocated his left wrist in the opener against Miami. It’s made for a painful journey, but Ihenacho refuses to change his ways. Worrying about another major injury is pointless. That’s not his personality anyway.
“I’m not really cautious about it. I can’t play like that,” Ihenacho said. “That’s not me, that’s not my game. That’s never been my game. If I ever get to that point than I should just stop playing football.”
The Redskins liked Ihenacho’s approach. He took his rehab seriously both times, splitting time between team headquarters in Ashburn and his own trainer in the Los Angeles area, where he was born and raised. They could have cut ties with him as a young player with talent, but a limited ability to stay on the field. That would have belied the fluke nature of his injuries, though.
“I like having fun. I like flying around,” Ihenacho said. “The thing about injuries, it’s going to happen to everybody. You can’t really prevent it. The only way you prevent injury is if you’re just not out there – and I’d rather be out there. I’m just gonna approach it the same way I always approach it. If I get hurt again, I’m just not a lucky guy.”
But of all Washington’s safeties, Ihenacho is probably the most balanced. He can run. That’s never been a problem. They can use him to blitz the quarterback from that spot. He’s a sound tackler, according to Gruden. That sets up an intriguing competition with Bruton at strong safety. Ihenacho, who won the starting job last season during camp, already has visions of the season opener against Pittsburgh at FedEx Field on Sept. 12.
“So eager. I deserve it, know what I mean?” Ihenacho said. “I work too hard. Just want to get back and contribute, be out there.”