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Competition At Outside Linebacker Heating Up

While Ryan Kerrigan's spot in the starting lineup is solidified, the competition for the other starting outside linebacker spot is bringing the best out of several different players.

Depth and competition.

That's what the Redskins were looking for all offseason at every position, outside linebacker included.

While Ryan Kerrigan remains locked into the starting lineup, the team's other starting linebacker spot, which was vacated this offseason by the departure of free agent Brian Orakpo to the Tennessee Titans, remains wide open for a number of different players.

Among them are 2015 second-round pick Preston Smith, 2014 second-round pick Trent Murphy and second-year players Trevardo Williams and Jackson Jeffcoat.

Smith – a 6-foot-5, 271 pounder out of Mississippi State – has already impressed on the practice field, as both head coach Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Joe Barry each like what they've seen out of him so far.

"I think they [general manager Scot McCloughan and President Bruce Allen] did a great job, and to get Preston where we got him, we were very excited," Barry said, "But he is a good, young, talented kid, and I'm sure his head is spinning a little bit right now, like most rookies. But he comes to work every day and he's doing a great job, and after – what's today? – five OTAs, I'm really excited with where he's at."

Gruden said Smith, like the rest of the rookies, is being forced to learn on the fly, but that hasn't stopped him from showing his skillset.

"Preston's showing signs that he's a very intelligent person, No. 1, and he can translate what he learns in the classroom out here," Gruden said. "But when we get the pads on, that will be the true test for an outside linebacker/defensive end."

Murphy, meanwhile, came back noticeably bigger and more at ease with a year of NFL experience now under his belt.

The Stanford product is already standing out alongside his teammates.

"When you're looking at practice and you watch practice film, you look for guys that jump out on the screen at you, guys that are making plays and you feel their presence and Trent Murphy is one of them," Gruden said. "He's bigger, he's stronger, he's rushing the passer extremely well, he's getting off the ball very well right now."

Gruden also believes Murphy will "make the biggest jump from first year to second year on our football team because not only is he bigger but he knows the position.

"He's athletic, and when you put on some extra bulk and strength, it's just going to give him more," the second-year head coach continued. "He's already a smart football player with great instincts. Now you add the extra bulk and we expect big things from him this year."

Williams and Jeffcoat, meanwhile, are also certainly players to watch for the Redskins at the outside linebacker position.

Late last season, Williams signed with the team's practice squad before making three appearances on game days.

A tough spot to be in, he dedicated himself to his offseason work, something the coaches noticed early on during workouts.

When asked if Williams could be the team's third linebacker going into the season, Gruden said there's a chance he could be.

"Trevardo came in last year in a pinch, man, and got some meaningful plays and some meaningful reps," he said. "He got a sack or two in the regular season. So, he's a very strong guy, you know? He has got a very good first step. Just a matter of getting him out there more often so he has better knowledge of the system and what he's doing."

Jeffcoat, meanwhile, made the most of his playing time late last season, collecting his first-career sack and interception.

"I played well at a high a level in college and every level I've played well, so I plan on coming out here and working my butt off and doing the same," Jeffcoat said of his playing style. "I can run, I get off blocks and I can do things like that, so on special teams, that's definitely helps to be able to get in space and make tackles."

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