Duke Ihenacho was “surprised” that he was cut by the Broncos on Saturday after starting 17 games in 2013, including the Super Bowl.
But such is life in the NFL. One minute you’re a starter. The next you’re looking for a job.
Fortunately, the 25-year-old strong safety said Monday, he wasn’t looking for too long.
“It was a blessing,” said Ihenacho, who was claimed off waivers by Washington on Sunday. “Obviously, you don’t want to move from where you at. I thought I was in a good position over there. You hate getting cut, but I’m just grateful to have this opportunity to play this game and continue to have a career in this league.”
He added: “I was surprised actually. But you know what? You just never know. You have to be prepared.”
Ihenacho arrived at Redskins Park on Monday morning, met his new coaches and teammates. Then he was issued his locker and jersey (No. 35) and, before he could catch his breath, was on a sweltering practice field, trying to pick up whatever he could.
Afterward, he said he’s confident he’ll be able to play in the Redskins’ season opener Sunday in Houston. How much? He won’t know that for a few days. He does, however, expect to be used extensively on special teams.
Last season in Denver, Ihenacho, who is entering his third year, enjoyed a breakout campaign, recording 73 tackles, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and six defended passes. He also notched three special teams tackles. Despite that performance, he found himself squeezed out of the lineup by the free agent signing of T.J. Ward and Quinton Carter’s return from injury.
Now, Ihenacho is more than halfway across the country, starting all over.
“It just depends on how I pick up the defense,” he said about how much he'll play against the Texans. “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 Sunday, whether it means running out on kickoff [team] or whether it means playing in a few packages. But I can play Sunday.”
Ihenacho said it’s too early to know if there are many similarities between the Broncos’ system and the Redskins’. But he also knows this much: Football can be a complicated or simple as you make it.
“Just put me in there and just tell me what to do and I’m good, man,” he said. “That’s how I feel. I don’t think that takes too much learning. You really got to be a dummy to not understand it. It’s just, ‘Here’s your man, or here’s your gap, or this is what you do, blitz here, just go.’ That’s all I got to do.”
Veteran safety Ryan Clark echoed those sentiments.
“This is not one of the defenses where we’re going to play Tampa-2, Cover-1 or Cover-3 every play,” Clark said. “There are some intricacies you need to know. There are a lot of different adjustments that we make that aren’t made at other places. I’m not sure how fast that process can happen. What I do know is he can run and he can hit. For those people like me who don’t make football that difficult, that’s very important. So I know he can help us in some form or fashion this week.”
Ihenacho knows that the Redskins’ interest in him stemmed from Brandon Meriweather’s two game suspension. But he doesn't view his opportunity in Washington as a temporary one. He hopes to parlay this chance into a full-time job that lasts all season.
“They needed a safety,” Ihenacho said. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to start. It just means I’m going to be able to help wherever that may be. I’m going to contribute anyway I can.”