- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Washington Redskins released safety Ifeanyi Ohalete yesterday in an abrupt but certainly not surprising move.

Ohalete, who joined the Redskins as an undrafted rookie in 2001, had fallen to third string in training camp after failing to meet the new staff’s expectations. The move ended a tenure in which he started 25 games and made a number of big plays but never developed into a fixture.

After hearing the names of potential replacements floated each offseason, watching running back Clinton Portis flash his uniform No.26 at a press conference in March and enduring this summer’s freefall down the depth chart, Ohalete sounded ready to move on as he packed his car at Redskin Park yesterday.

“I don’t think any of us are really that surprised,” Ohalete said. “It’s the way it’s been going. I don’t know. It’s just one of those things that happens. I guess me and my position coach [Steve Jackson] didn’t see eye-to-eye. I made some bad plays, and that was that. Better now than later.”

Indeed, the cut’s timing helps Ohalete, 25, who hits the market well before league-mandated first cuts and while a number of clubs are looking for capable safeties. Although he won’t land a starting job, one NFL scout said Ohalete has value as a third or fourth safety and a special-teams contributor.

Multiple teams were expected to put in waiver claims, including perhaps the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions. The Bengals are coached by 2002 Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, while the Lions’ secondary coach is George Catavolos, Washington’s defensive backs coach the past two years. Both clubs could use help at safety. Teams were permitted to submit claims starting at 4p.m.

Redskins coaches emphasized the cut was made to benefit Ohalete once it became clear he wouldn’t get a roster spot in Washington.

“It had absolutely nothing to do with [Ohalete as] a person,” said Jackson, who oversees safeties and third-down situations. “Ifay’s a hell of a guy. He’s a great dad, good in the classroom, works hard. He was probably the hardest worker that we had. But he just didn’t fit into the plans.”

Said assistant head coach for defense Gregg Williams: “He deserves a chance to make a team. He’s not going to make our team, but let’s make sure he makes somebody else’s team.”

Precipitating Ohalete’s tumble from first string in the offseason to third string in camp was a casual approach to dropping weight and getting faster, one club source said. Several members of the organization felt that once the Redskins drafted Sean Taylor with the fifth pick overall, Ohalete no longer gave full effort.

Publicly, Jackson blamed the split on a poor “fit.” Ohalete always has been a gambler, and both he and Jackson alluded to a difference of opinion on technique. In addition, the 68-yard touchdown reception Ohalete yielded Saturday to the Carolina Panthers’ Keary Colbert couldn’t have helped his case.

“I wasn’t playing techniques the way [Jackson] wanted me to. I was at fault for that,” Ohalete said. “And … we just didn’t see eye-to-eye. He didn’t think I was listening to him on the football field. That’s his opinion. I tried to play my best for him, and it just didn’t work out.”

The Sword of Damocles had been hanging over Ohalete for years. Each offseason the Redskins sifted through high-profile potential upgrades, and this spring the ultimate insult occurred when Portis, after signing an eight-year, $50.5million contract, posed for pictures with Ohalete’s No.26. Portis later pried the number from Ohalete for $45,000, according to a team source.

Despite getting little respect, Ohalete repeatedly carved out significant roles. Under Marty Schottenheimer in 2001, he ranked fourth in special-teams tackles with 17. In 2002, he won the strong safety job from Sam Shade and had three interceptions. And last year, he started 15 games, had three more picks and ranked third on the club with 105 tackles.

But in April the Redskins drafted Taylor, setting off a chain of events that led to a release that all along seemed almost inevitable.

“Now the powers that be have their wish,” Ohalete said. “Three years [here], two-year starter — somebody has to do the math. It’s not me. All I can look toward is continuing my career in the NFL. And if that doesn’t work out, I’ve got to do something else.”

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