The Washington Redskins made a lineup change on defense for their game against the Indianapolis Colts last night that had been brewing for much of the season, making second-year pro Ifeanyi Ohalete their starting strong safety ahead of veteran Sam Shade.
The move was not a surprise. Ohalete said Wednesday that he expected to start, and Coach Steve Spurrier and defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said they were considering the switch. Shade said at midweek that he would go along with whatever the coaches decided. But the coaches declined to make an official announcement, perhaps to keep the Colts guessing and perhaps to ease the sting for Shade, a respected veteran who has served as a mentor to Ohalete.
Shade is in his fourth season with the Redskins and has been a starter from the moment he signed as a free agent following four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He always has struggled against the pass while excelling against the run. The Redskins have had top 10 defenses the previous two seasons with him in the lineup, and they entered last night's game ranked 11th.
But Shade had two costly misplays on long passes 15 days ago against the New Orleans Saints, and failed to stop Green Bay Packers tailback Ahman Green on a touchdown run while blitzing early in a loss eight days ago. Shade's future with the club is uncertain beyond this season, and the Redskins hope Ohalete can develop into a solid player who can play in running and passing situations. The former undrafted free agent out of Southern California had a touchdown against the Saints on an interception return, and his playing time gradually has increased this season while Shade's has decreased.
Spurrier has regularly juggled his lineup on offense this season, but this was the first lineup switch by Lewis on defense not precipitated by an injury or an unusual formation by the opposing offense to start a game.
Samuels, Stai Out
Left tackle Chris Samuels and right guard Brenden Stai were on the Redskins' inactive list. Offensive line coach Kim Helton said before the game that neither player tested his injury on the field during warmups. The coaches already knew that neither would be able to play.
Samuels was out of the starting lineup for the first time in his 39 games with the Redskins since the team selected him with the third overall selection in the 2000 draft. He was replaced by Alex Sulfsted, who made his first NFL start. Sulfsted played most of the second half eight days ago at Green Bay after Samuels aggravated his sprained left ankle. Samuels has played this season with a sprained ankle, a stomach virus that caused him to lose nine pounds, a strained groin muscle and a bruised thigh.
But he reinjured the ankle and suffered a pinched nerve in his neck and shoulder against the Packers, and tearfully told the coaches on the sideline that he was hurting. As last week progressed, even the stubborn Samuels seemed to realize that taking a game off to heal would be in his best interests. His status for next Sunday's game at Seattle probably won't be determined until midweek, after he and the team's medical staff evaluate his progress.
Stai missed a second straight game because of a case of patella tendinitis in his left knee. He immediately became the Redskins' starter at right guard when the club acquired him in a trade with the Detroit Lions just before the season, but he could end up losing the job to just-signed guard Tre Johnson. . . .
The Redskins also placed wide receiver Kevin Lockett and tight end Zeron Flemister on the inactive list. Lockett had a key fumble at Green Bay and was replaced as the fifth wideout on the active roster by Darnerien McCants, who rewarded coaches by scoring a first-quarter touchdown. Flemister lost his spot on the active roster to Leonard Stephens, who split the tight end duties with Walter Rasby.