- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2016

RICHMOND — Duke Ihenacho knows how cruel the results-driven professional sports business can be. The need to win never stops — often times leaving organizations with little use for players that can’t stay on the field and contribute.

The Washington Redskins’ 27-year-old strong safety appreciates the fact that he is in training camp competing with veteran David Bruton for the starting job, despite the fact that he’s played just 13 defensive snaps in the last two seasons after injuries have claimed his playing time. Then again, Ihenacho never doubted he’d get back to this point, zipping around the practice field with his trademark intensity during organized team activities and now in camp.

“You know what, it’s meant a lot [for the Redskins] to have that confidence in me just to understand what type of player I am, just to contribute to the team,” Ihenacho said. “A lot of guys man, it’s very hard. They don’t get the opportunity I got after two injuries in a row, they just kinda part ways. For the team to still have faith in me and bring me back says a lot about our front office and I’m grateful for it.

“I definitely expected [to be back]. I’m grateful, but I understand what type of player I am. I believe I should’ve been back. They saw how hard I worked, dedicated myself to getting back and was very serious about being a good player.”

Ihenacho feels as good as he did last summer when he reported to training camp after missing all but three games in 2014 after he broke his left heel in Week 3. Then in the 2015 season opener against the Miami Dolphins, Ihenacho broke his left wrist after playing just nine snaps.

Despite breaking two bones in consecutive seasons, Ihenacho has no intention of slowing down his high-intensity playing style.

“I can’t play like that,” Ihenacho said. “That’s not my game, never been my game and if I ever get to that point, I should just stop playing football. I just approach it the same. I’m an aggressive player, like having fun, flying around. The thing about injuries is it’s going to happen to everybody. You know you can’t really prevent it. The only way you prevent it is if you’re not out there. If I get hurt again, I’m just not a lucky guy.”

Though Ihenacho said there was little he could do to prevent broken bones, he’s dedicated himself to taking better care of his body than he did when he was a rookie.

“You don’t really understand how to be a professional and your body really hasn’t taken a beating,” he said.

Now, Ihenacho doesn’t go many places without his rolling bar, which he uses to stretch his muscles. On the Redskins’ offday, he came to the facility for a light workout and a jog so his body didn’t get tight in between practices. What’s most important, Ihenacho said, is making sure he does his exercises at night.

It wasn’t so easy for Ihenacho to do so when he arrived at the team hotel to find two queen-size beds in his room, so he improvised and flipped one against the wall so he could do yoga.

Veteran DeAngelo Hall, who is in his first training camp since switching from cornerback to free safety in the middle of last season, said Ihenacho has responded well to the challenge of returning from his injuries.

“He hasn’t missed a beat,” Ihenacho said. “Still one of the most energetic guys out there running around. We just put the pads on so we haven’t had a lot of hitting going on, but we look forward to him being the guy he is. Physical safety, can come in run support and help out. He and Bruton got a good battle on, starting strong safety spot. Both are trying to compete and win that job.”

Ihenacho, who’s entering his fifth season, said he feels like one of the most experienced players amongst the safeties, but only because Hall and veteran Will Blackmon have recently transitioned to the position and Ihenacho is confident they can handle the switch.

“Those guys get it, they’re vets,” Ihenacho said. “They’ve seen a lot of things so they understand concepts and they’re great enough athletes to read and react. Coaches have confidence they can handle that position very well.”

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