Duke Ihenacho came to the Washington Redskins with a lot of hope and potential. Draft picks Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo weren't progressing at the rate the Redskins needed, so the team claimed Ihenacho off the waiver wire in 2014. The Redskins knew they were getting an aggressive player who liked to come downhill and hit. Two years later, the move has yet to pay off as Ihenacho has spent 29 of a possible 33 games sidelined by injuries.
Ihenacho outperformed Jeron Johnson to win the starting strong safety job out of training camp in 2015. Then his season lasted all of eight plays before he fractured a wrist. This year, David Bruton is the latest threat for the gig. However, is Ihenacho's true battle with Bruton or himself? To the film room for examples of what Duke has done and how he can help Washington.
1. In 2014, Ihenacho started on special teams but as the Redskins got more frustrated with the poor play of Rambo, they began giving Duke snaps on defense. Here he is in Week 2 versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. He's playing in a Cover 3 where his responsibility is the flat area. The Jaguars are running a little drag route into that area.
Ihenacho identifies the route and begins crashing down on it as he sees the ball leave the quarterback's hand.
Iheancho packs power and delivers a shot to the wide receiver. He played the last series of this game -- four total snaps -- on defense. The Redskins were up big.
2. During the first quarter of the following week versus the Philadelphia Eagles, Ihenacho is seen here playing in his regular spot on a kick return.
Ihenacho does a great job finding a player and putting a body on him. Unfortunately, he plants his left foot awkwardly in the turf.
Ihenacho begins favoring the foot immediately. Shortly after the game, it's discovered that he suffered a fractured foot, and he is put on injured reserve. The Redskins envisioned a big role for him going forward, but he was able to give them only four snaps on defense in 2014.
3. Fast forward to 2015. Ihenacho has beaten Johnson for the starting job and was eating in Week 1 against Miami. On this play, the Dolphins are running a sweep to the right.
If you read a lot of my material, you see me preach about keeping the outside shoulder free during pursuits because it forces opposing players to the middle of the field, where your help is located. Ihenacho does a great job of it here (Ryan Kerrigan too). If the running back cuts back, he's going to run right into Keenan Robinson.
The running back tries to outrun Ihenacho to the outside. Nope. The safety uses his free shoulder to make the tackle. Minimal gain.
4. Here is Iheancho near the line of scrimmage on a third-and-1. The Dolphins are running an inside zone from a shotgun formation, with a tight end coming back to seal off the defensive end. Ihenacho basically goes from strong safety to Will linebacker in this alignment.
Iheancho quickly identifies the play and shoots the gap.
Iheancho makes the tackle for no gain, forcing a fourth down and a punt. This play was made because of aggression and fearless speed into the gap.
5. On this play, Inhenacho is basically a Will linebacker and is blitzing off the backside. He does a good job disguising it too.
Ihenacho sees the handoff to the running back and immediately crashes.
Iheancho and Trent Murphy sandwich the back for a loss on the play. Unfortunately, Ihenacho breaks his wrist in this collision and ends up on injured reserve again.
It doesn't seem like a lot, but Ihenacho's impact per play is actually pretty impressive. The problem is after playing four defensive snaps in his first year with the Redskins, he managed only eight defensive snaps last year. Washington is hoping for much more in 2016. Bruton will provide some stiff competition, and Su'a Cravens could factor into this strong safety battle as well, depending on how he is deployed. Will the Redskins use Cravens as that eighth defender/Will linebacker in the box or is he going to go full Deone Bucannon and start at inside linebacker? Regardless, before those questions are addressed, Ihenacho has to answer this: Can his body hold up long enough for him to even be a factor?
Paul Conner is the Film Analyst and Draft Evaluator at Breaking Burgundy. You can follow him on Twitter @P_ConnerJr
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