Duke Ihenacho was surprised to learn on Saturday that the Denver Broncos no longer needed his services. He had started 14 games at strong safety for the team in 2013. And although Denver this offseason signed Pro Bowl strong safety T.J. Ward to take his place in the lineup, Ihenacho still figured he would have a role on the team.
But that wasn’t the case for the third-year pro, who recorded 73 tackles and three forced fumbles last season. However, he didn’t have much time to reflect on his release, because the Washington Redskins claimed him off the waiver wire less than 24 hours later.
“It was a blessing, man. Obviously, you don’t want to move from where you’re at,” Ihenacho said on Monday. “I thought I was in a good position, and my family was in a good position there. You hate getting cut, but I’m just grateful for this opportunity, to still have a place in this league. … You just never know. Anything can happen. On to the next step, and I’m ready to work.”
The Redskins are thin at safety because Brandon Meriweather will miss the first two games of the regular season while serving a suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith.
But Washington didn’t necessarily claim Ihenacho to replace Meriweather in these first two games, coach Jay Gruden said.
“It was just that he was available,” he said.
Providing further insight on what the Redskins liked about Ihenacho, Gruden explained, “I think he brings some experience to the table. He started a lot of games last year for Denver. He’s a tough guy and became available. We didn’t know who was going to come available. We saw that he was there, we put a claim into him because of the experience level and special teams experience. We thought he could be an immediate help for us and luckily we got him.”
Initially, Ihenacho probably will contribute on special teams more than anything. He has a lot of learning of the defense to do before he can step in as a starter.
“It just depends on how I pick up the defense,” the 6-foot-1, 207-pound San Jose State product said. “Obviously, I’m not going to play a full workload like I would any other game, because I don’t know the full playbook. But I’m going to do what I can, and I can play on Sunday, whether it means running down on kickoff, or on the two packages. But I can play on Sunday.”
Second-year pro Bacarri Rambo has worked with the first team in place of Meriweather, and Ryan Clark plays free safety, but could be called upon to play strong safety at times.
But the acquisition of Ihenacho could’ve been made with an eye on the future. Meriweather has drawn punishments for illegal hits six times since the league cracked down in this area in 2010. Given his track record, it’s hard to envision him making it through the remaining 14 games of the schedule without drawing another punishment. Meriweather also has battled injuries in each of the past two seasons, and hasn’t played a 16-game slate since 2010.
So, even if he doesn’t start right away, Ihenacho could eventually. But he’s not worried about that right now.
“I’ve been brought here just to contribute, man,” he said. “Everyone’s aware of Meriweather missing two games. So, there’s a need at safety. That doesn’t mean I’m going to start. But I’ll be able to help wherever it may be. Or, just in case someone else goes down. I just got here today, so I’m still trying to figure out what exactly I’m going to do, but I’m going to contribute any way I can.”
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