With both players providing their own strengths, the Redskins will incorporate veterans Duke Ihenacho and Donte Whitner Sr. into the defensive scheme each week.
The Redskins have a plan for the strong safety position, and it means that both Duke Ihenacho and the recently signed Donte Whitner Sr. will both get quite a bit of action on the field.
"You start with Duke and Donte is going to play a lot," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said on Monday. "It might depend on the package. It might be more nickel for Donte, it might be more base for Duke, or what have you. That's something that we'll decide on a week-by-week basis and a game-by-game basis depending on who we're playing, what personnel groups they're featuring and go from there."
To start the season, it was David Bruton Jr. starting at strong safety. But in the Redskins' Week 4 victory over the Cleveland Browns, Bruton Jr. suffered a concussion and was placed on Injured Reserve the next day.
Ihenacho has since taken his place in the starting lineup, recording 13 tackles in the last two games. Whitner Sr., however, played nearly double the amount of snaps (40) that Ihenacho did (19) in Sunday's victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
"Yeah, Whitner has played well," Gruden said. "He's a good player. He's a darn good football player and he's earned the reps being out here. We like what he does – his knowledge of the game and his ability to play zone and man coverage. He's just an all-around good safety."
It isn't surprising that Whitner Sr. has played well to date for the Redskins, as he is, after all, a three-time Pro Bowler that recorded 187 tackles in 30 games with the Cleveland Browns during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
So when he was asked to pick up the defensive playbook on the fly after signing with the Redskins on Oct. 5, the 10-year veteran had little issue learning a new scheme, evident in his increased playing time and production (four tackles) against the Eagles.
The Washington Redskins on Wednesday signed 10-year veteran safety Donte Whitner. Take a look at his NFL career in photos.
"Just experience, played in a lot of big games, played with a lot of good defenses," Whitner Sr. said, crediting his experience. "Understand what it takes to be a good defense and a good secondary and that's communication. You almost have to be inside each other's body and know each other's thinking, because a lot of times the crowd is loud and you really can't hear, so you have to know what the other guys' thinking and that comes with practicing together, hanging out together, communicating on the football field and off the football field and then we'll be alright."
Don't chalk up this situation as some sort of heated battle where the two can't coexist. Yes, they'd both like to get the upper hand in terms of playing time, but Whitner Sr.'s been giving Ihenacho tips on situations he sees while on the sidelines.
"Just having Whit makes the game a little bit easier for me," Ihenacho said. "After every play – he didn't play much [against the Ravens] – but after every play when I come back to the sideline he has something for me: an adjustment, a tip, something that helps me, something that he saw that I didn't see. So just having a guy here who is a veteran guy, a guy who has been in here 10-plus years, he definitely makes life easier."
So why is Whitner Sr. so willing to provide guidance for a player that could ultimately gobble up a chunk of the reps?
Ihenacho has "all the talent in the world."
"[I] just let him know he needs to watch himself sometimes, correct the things that happen bad to him on the football field," Whitner Sr. said. "Any pointer that I give him, any coverage, even if coach doesn't say anything I let him know. Just being that second eye for him when he's out there on the football field because ultimately it boils down to winning football games and that's how we're going to win them."