With training camp set to begin later this month, Redskins.com previews the current state of the Redskins' roster, continuing today with the team's outside linebackers.
The Washington Redskins will head to training camp this year with 2017 starters Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith returning, along with newcomer Pernell McPhee, who was signed in free agency.
Junior Galette (unsigned) Trent Murphy (signed with the Bills), Chris Carter (unsigned)
Pernell McPhee (signed as a free agent)
CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
For the last seven years, there has never been a question regarding the durability and productivity of linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who enters his eighth season in the league looking to maintain an unprecedented level of consistency and success at the NFL level.
It's been a reassuring attribute for the outside linebackers group, one of the more reliable areas on the field for the Redskins over the last several years, which looks to keep making improvements as its younger players emerge. As one of the few members to play in all 16 games last year, Kerrigan made his third Pro Bowl last year, tallying 13 sacks (nearly matching his career high) and 46 tackles along with an interception returned for a touchdown.
On the other side of him, Preston Smith took the bulk of the snaps with a more productive third year. Playing in all 16 games, too, Smith combined for 42 tackles, eight sacks, nearly doubling his total from 2016, a forced fumble and two interceptions. Smith, who enters the final year of his rookie contract, knows what the Redskins can achieve should its primary contributors stay healthy.
"When we have a healthy defense, we have a lot of guys, including our draft picks in the last few years, a lot of guys that have helped the team," Smith said. "Free agents that we brought in, guys with a lot of talent. As long as we stay healthy, we can be a dangerous defense in this league."
The outside linebackers group experienced loss early last year when Trent Murphy hit Injured Reserve in training camp, tearing his left ACL. He, along with Junior Galette (who came back from two torn Achilles injuries and served in a limited role) and special teams contributor Chris Carter won't be returning this season, which should give second-year veteran Ryan Anderson a bigger opportunity.
The Alabama product had a limited role in his rookie year, making 15 tackles over 14 games and dealing with some nagging injuries. Outside linebackers coach Chad Grimm has liked the improvements he's seen from Anderson during OTAs and minicamp, however, and thinks he's primed to make a bigger impact this season.
"He's restructured his body a bit and took a bunch of weight off," Grimm said. "He's opened up his hips tremendously and has been doing yoga and stuff like that to get a little bit more fluid with his hips… He's always been great mentally, but he does have a new determined attitude and he's looking to make that kind of impact. He's always been helping this team win games. So it's been exciting with his mindset and how he's been this year."
The only main addition this season came in veteran Pernell McPhee, who enters his eighth year in the NFL after last playing with the Bears. Grimm sang his praises during the spring, mentioning how much he loves McPhee's attitude and physicality, something that should be a helpful addition against the run.
"We understand what he is and how we're going to use him and utilize his skillset and upside," Grimm said. "His physicality, strength, and aggression can be used in different kinds of schemes and different rush methods."
WHAT TO WATCH:
Pro Football Focus released their rankings of the best pass rushes entering the 2018 season. The Redskins came in sixth after totaling the eighth best pressure percentage in the league last season. It's an encouraging statistic, if only because it should improve even more this season with a defensive line that's been bolstered thanks to the additions of Daron Payne and Tim Settle.
"Now, if you're getting that kind of pressure inside, that opens up whole new avenues and techniques and stuff we've been working on how we're going to get to that quarterback," Grimm said. "It's not necessarily going right around the edge. It might be coming back around and spying on the quarterback potentially. If you can get there with three, you can use one of those guys to feather towards to the front and be ready to go get that guy when he takes off running. So that push inside the pocket where he can't step up, he's going to be where we know he's going to be."
This should bode well for Kerrigan and Smith, both of whom will likely be the two starters heading into the season. With Smith entering his contract year, Grimm expects him to have a strong campaign and to block out the noise that comes with an expiring deal.
"The biggest thing from him is just to be consistent every play," Smith said. "I just want to see him every single play doing it. That's part of the maturing and growing as a pro is just understanding that it's not just the big moments when you need to turn it on. It's every play in every game. So just consistency from him, and he's already been a big-time productive player and if he learns to flip that consistency switch and bring it every play, he can really even up that production."
If Anderson and McPhee can set the edge and help bolster a run defense in need of some help, this group should be in solid hands moving forward.