One day after Coach Mike Shanahan said Tim Hightower is nearing a returning to practice, the Redskins starting tailback confirmed that his surgically repaired knee is fine, ready.People ask me what percent I am all the time, Hightower said Wednesday morning. I dont know. Ive never been through this. But I know I feel good.I can make every cut, he added. I can run. I dont feel any restrictions or limitations. At this point, its just a matter of going out there and getting repetitions. The only way to get better a football is by playing football. Thats the next step for me.On Tuesday, Shanahan said Hightower, who missed the final 11 games last season after tearing the ACL in his left knee in October, could begin taking reps in team drills as soon as Friday. Shanahan also hinted the Hightower could suit up for the third or fourth preseason game.When they feel comfortable putting me out there, then theyll do that and Ill be ready to go, said Hightower, who added that he hasnt been told when exactly hell be cleared to participate fully in practice. But the knee is fine.Hightower is listed on the depth chart as the Redskins starting tailback. Hes also the teams top pass-catcher out of the backfield, best blocker and most experienced running back. But hes also aware that hes competing for playing time with second-year players Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr., as well as emerging rookie Alfred Morris.For me, I get excited when I see guys like that doing well, Hightower said of the crowded backfield. It pushes me and encourages me to stay on top of my stuff.Whenever Hightower does return, he said his goal is to be more prominent on and off the field than he was before the injury.I dont want to be the player I was; I want to be better, he said. This team needs me to be better. I need to be more vocal, be a better leader, to be more productive. I want to be better for this team. If everybody on this team is as good as they were last year, we wont be good enough.
When Duke Ihenacho landed on the Redskins inactive report Week 1 against Pittsburgh, many around the league were surprised. That surprise waned as the season progressed. Weeks 2 and 3 Ihenacho was active, yet hardly played.
Now injuries to DeAngelo Hall and Bashaud Breeland are forcing the Redskins to shake up their secondary, though it remains unclear if that means more defensive snaps for Ihenacho. Asked if Hall's torn ACL means Ihenacho will hit the field more on defense, Redskins coach Jay Gruden sounded non-commital.
"Could be," the coach said. "We're gonna dress four safeties most likely and they'll all probably get an opportunity."
MORE REDSKINS: NO HEALTH CONCERNS FOR DAVID BRUTON
The Redskins will start Will Blackmon and David Bruton at free and strong safety, leaving Ihenacho third on the depth chart and Deshazor Everett fourth. This week in practice, Ihenacho said his workload has increased, albeit slightly.
"I'm getting a little bit more reps at practice," Ihenacho said. "I'm really backing up both the guys. I know both positions."
For the bulk of his career, Ihenacho has dealt with injuries. In five seasons, he only has 15 starts, though his lone healthy season came in Denver in 2013. That Broncos team made it to the Super Bowl with Ihenacho at strong safety, and the five-year veteran out of San Jose State produced. In 14 starts that year, he logged 67 tackles to go with nine passes defensed and three forced fumbles.
Ihenacho has not stayed healthy in his two seasons in Washington, but he is healthy now. Asked why he isn't seeing the field more, the safety was unsure.
"Obviously I want to be out there but I'm not a coach so I just kinda got to deal with the cards that are dealt," he said. "Obviously I want to be out there, I'd like to be out there, I feel I should have been out there."
While Hall was healthy, the Redskins began to substitute Blackmon in for Bruton on longer third downs against the Giants, a nod to Blackmon's coverage skills. With Hall injured, that substitution pattern did not continue. Some fans and media have questioned if there is an issue or injury causing Ihenacho to stay on the bench.
"None of that. I haven't had any off the field issues, haven't had any injury issues. I know the defense, it's not a matter of me not knowing the playbook or anything like that. It's not a matter of me being inexperienced. It's not a matter of the coaches not trusting me."
Like any player, it's natural for Ihenacho to want to be on the field, but he understands what his role is for now.
"I feel like this is a situation where [the coaches] got guys they want to play. That's just what it is. Sometimes it's just as simple as that. They got other guys they just want to give shots to, and that's cool. Obviously I want to be out there but that's part of being a professional, understanding that and just waiting for your time."
Despite not seeing much action on defense, Ihenacho made his presence felt in the win against the Giants. On a long Jamison Crowder punt return, Ihenacho laid out two New York defenders with one block.
"The opportunity presented itself," he said. "I looped back around and I saw Crowder break a lot of tackles and make a couple guys miss. He brought it back around and my eyes kind of lit up when I hit the first guy and then at the last second I see the second guy and I just threw my body into him and it kinda just worked out."
When the team watched the game film, Ihenacho said the whole room had the same reaction to his block.
"It's like 'oooooooooh.' It was cool."
If Austin Reiter was on the Redskins roster as he was at the beginning of the season, he could well be starting at center against the Browns this week in the wake of injuries to Kory Lichtensteiger and Shawn Lauvao.
Instead, he could well be starting for the Browns.
Mary Kay Cabot, Browns beat writer for Cleveland.com, tweeted the following:
#Browns Hue Jax says there's a chance center Austin Reiter, signed off the Redskins' practice squad, could play Sunday— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) September 29, 2016
Reiter, a seventh-round draft pick of the Redskins in 2015, made the 53-man roster coming out of training camp. But he was cut after Week 1 to make room for defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins. The Redskins signed him to the practice squad, but Reiter went to Cleveland when the Browns signed him to their roster after injuries hit at the center position.
What Browns coach Hue Jackson said doesn’t sound definitive, and it may be some misinformation to try to throw the Redskins off. Veteran John Greco started at center for the Browns last Sunday, and he does not appear on their injury report.
Update: Breaking Burgundy is reporting that Reiter will start on Sunday.