A wrist injury in the Redskins' first game of 2015 ended safety Duke Ihenacho's season. Six weeks later, his cast is gone and he's in positive spirits.
Safety Duke Ihenacho couldn't tell you what hit it was, or how exactly it happened, but as he went in for a tackle during the team's season opener against the Dolphins, he felt something funny.
So, after the play, he asked teammates to look at his left wrist and got the same collective response.
"They were like 'Yo, don't look at it,'" Ihenacho said. "Then I looked at it and I was like 'Oh wow.' It was deformed. It was just out of place. My wrist was going a whole different way."
The gravity of his situation didn't hit until the next day, once Ihenacho had received an MRI and was told he would probably miss the rest of the season. He went to get a second opinion, but the results were the same. It was a bad break. He needed surgery.
He was promptly put on season-ending injured/reserve, just like the year before, when he fractured his heel after the team's third game.
"It really sucked because I wanted to be out there with my teammates," Ihenacho said. "It's been a while since I played football. I worked hard to get that starting spot."
This erased season doesn't have quite the same feeling as 2014, though. Ihenacho came to the Redskins last year in August after getting cut by the Broncos. He had little time to acquaint himself with teammates before the season began. And then it quickly ended.
With hardly any relationships built in that short span of time, Ihenacho recovered in isolation, away from his team.
"Last year I was really outside of the loop," he said. "I didn't really know my teammates so I really took on the struggles all by myself. I didn't have anybody to talk to, nobody to be around."
Check out images of veteran safety Duke Ihenacho during the 2015 offseason.
In spite of that, he returned to the organization in the best shape of his life. He had a full offseason to reacquaint himself with his teammates, many of them new, along with coaches and the facility staff. All of this, including winning the starting strong safety job out of training camp, made the severity of his current situation – losing another season to injury -- more deflating.
But, in some ways, it also made it more bearable.
He's involved in a texting group chat with all of the defensive backs, for instance, and they check in on him from time to time. Being settled in Leesburg, Va., has also given him more comfort, knowing the area and feeling at home for the past six weeks.
"Honestly, the guys check up on me," Ihenacho said. "It's been a big difference."
Ihenacho is out of a cast now and pain free. The pin that held his bone together was recently removed in St. Louis by Dr. Charles Goldfarb, who he found through Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas (they share the same agent and Thomas recommended him after injuring his finger in the preseason).
He hasn't worked out but for some lower body routines (the sweat would have made the cast smelly) though he'll become more active with his wrist in a splint during the next four weeks. His recovery will begin afterward with strength and flexibility workouts, using bands and squeeze balls to regain the natural movements in his wrist.
It's another long process, but Ihenacho says he's "in a good space."
"You've got to stay busy, stay working and just trust yourself, trust the process and things will go by fast. I don't let it discourage me," he said.
"I'm never lacking any confidence. I still feel like I can contribute and I still feel like I can't wait to get back out there and compete for a starting spot again, get back on the field and continue to start making plays again…I'm excited. We're playing better than we did last year. We've still got work to do but I'm excited. The thing that hurts the most is just watching us on TV, and not only us but just watching all my other friends in the NFL on TV around the league and seeing everyone do well. It makes me jealous because I want to do well and I want to be out there with them."
If anything, this second year sitting out will give him a better perspective on his ability, and how he's thought of in the league. To Ihenacho, the doubts only feed a self-taught truism.
"I think people know I can play, but people want to know if I can stay healthy. I'm pretty sure I'm going to scare some people away," he said. "So I've got an uphill battle I've got to climb, because two years in a row, that's a lot. I'm always going to have things to prove."