While much of the Washington Redskins offseason has been focused on filling holes on defense through free agency and the April 2013 draft, an enormous gap can be be filled with the return of three players on the team's 2012 injured reserve list—Brian Orakpo, Brandon Meriweather and Chase Minnifield.
Each of these three players had rave reviews in 2011 and their placement on the injured reserve list in 2012 allowed the Redskins the opportunity to retain them and free up a roster spot for physically available players.
Once a player is placed on the injured reserve (IR) or declared physically unable to perform (PUP), he can remain on the team but cannot participate for the remainder of the season.
Starting with outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who totaled 29.5 sacks in 49 games, the Redskins have yearned for a complement to their pass rush. Orakpo tore his pectoral muscle in the final 2011 regular season game while sacking Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
During the offseason his injury healed to a point that coaches and team doctors felt him ready to play in 2012. In Week 2 against the St. Louis Rams, Orakpo again tore his pectoral muscle and missed the remainder of the season.
Strong safety Brandon Meriweather missed the first nine games of the 2012 season after straining ligaments in his left knee during preseason. The injuries to his posterior crucial ligament (PCL), which forms the "X" across the knee joint, and his medial crucial ligament (MCL), one of the portions of the "X", were enough to sideline Meriweather for the beginning of the 2012 season.
To make matters worse for Meriweather, he was involved in a bizarre collision during pregame warmups with teammate Aldrick Robinson. This occurred as Meriweather was regaining strength in his knee and resulted in him having to sit out additional weeks prior to his return following the team's bye week.
In his return game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11, Meriweather then tore his right anterior crucial ligament (ACL) in his right knee—his "good knee." This injury forced him onto the team's injured reserve list.
Cornerback Chase Minnifield has yet to play in an NFL game and was a highly regarded college defensive back at the University of Virginia. His dual threat as a cornerback/punt and kick returner led many NFL team scouts to project him as high as a second-round pick in the 2012 draft.
Minnifield had several injuries to his right knee which required surgery—the earliest occurred during his senior year in high school then again in January 2012. Due to his risk of a repeat injury and rehabilitation of his knee at the time, he was not drafted in 2012.
His January 2012 procedure is known as microfracture surgery. This procedure entails removing some of the tendon from his healthy knee and grafting it into his injured knee—coincidentally, the same procedure performed on Robert Griffin III by the same orthopedist, Dr. James Andrews.
The Redskins signed him as an undrafted free agent in April only to have Minnifield reinjure his knee during the last day of minicamp last June. He was waived by the team and after clearing waivers the 'Skins retained him and placed him on the IR the next day.
Recent reports have the three Redskins defenders making great strides in their rehabilitation.
Last week, The Washington Post reported, "Orakpo was back to lifting weights and in the process of regaining his strength. He felt confident he would be healthy well before the start of training camp."
The aforementioned Meriweather submitted the Twitter message above Feb. 20 in support of Chase Minnifield.
Pro Football Weekly reported in late January that the Redskins are said to be pleased with the rehabilitation of Meriweather but that the safety still has a lot of work to do.
"Meriweather is the most likely to miss the majority of offseason workouts, as he is the most recent of the four to get injured. But we hear the team is confident it should have all of them ready to go at some point during training camp."
Despite the success of the Washington Redskins in 2012, the defense finished near the bottom statistically in several categories. Coach Mike Shanahan and his staff are watching the NFL Scouting Combine closely this week, as they travelled to Indianapolis to see first hand the young talent on display.
With salary cap space at a premium and an upcoming season full of anticipation and excitement, the fans anxiously await improvements to a defense that could include the return of these three players—or in Minnifield's case debut—to the NFC East champions.