If the fabled "sophomore slump" is indeed a real thing, it's not something that worries Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.
Kerrigan, who's in his second year as the Redskins starting left outside linebacker, had a stellar rookie campaign in 2011, playing every defensive snap en route to 70 tackles – nine for a loss – with 7.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown.
He got off on the right foot in his sophomore season in Week 1 with a sack of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and he was a menace the entire game within the Saints' backfield in the Redskins' 40-32 win at the Superdome.
Kerrigan thinks the "sophomore slump" term is "almost like a myth" because, he says, it's all about a second-year player's daily approach.
"I think the big thing for me to avoid it is just to come out with the same mindset in practice every day and working hard," Kerrigan said. "I honestly haven't thought about the 'sophomore slump' at all.
"I just look at this as a new season and a chance to get better, and that's how I'm going to treat it."
Kerrigan's fellow outside linebacker, Brian Orakpo, is a teammate Kerrigan said he can look at as a player who avoided the "sophomore slump."
In 2009, Orakpo became the first Redskins rookie to make the Pro Bowl since 1978; he followed up that performance in 2010 with 56 tackles, 8.5 sacks, a forced fumble and another Pro Bowl selection.
Orakpo said he's never bought in to "sophomore slumps."
"It's all about preparation," he said. "If you prepare yourself to be a good player – a great player – you're not really worried about having a bad sophomore year."
Orakpo – who also had a busy day against the Saints with two tackles and three passes defended – said there's two types of players that could fall victim to a disappointing second season.
"A lot of guys that have 'sophomore slumps' are guys that put too much pressure on themselves or guys who don't prepare themselves at all and bank on what they did the previous year," Orakpo said. "[Kerrigan's] not that type of guy – I think he'll be fine."
Kerrigan said he hopes to prove Orakpo right by working on the technical aspects of his game daily.
Even though he had a solid opening game against the Saints, Kerrigan said it wasn't hard to figure out what he needed to work on heading into the Redskins' Week 2 matchup with the St. Louis Rams and beyond.
"I was false-stepping a bit in my get-off on my pass rush, which is something I thought I had previously corrected in the preseason," Kerrigan said. "I need to do a lot better and be a lot more consistent in my technique and my pass rushing and in playing the run."
Despite never being afraid to be critical of his own play, Kerrigan did say he was happy to get a Week 1 sack and draw two holding penalties against the Saints.
"I was able to draw a couple holding calls, which, I think was about two more than I got all of last year," Kerrigan said with a laugh.
Kerrigan's approach is respected by his coaches and teammates alike, but having the respect of defensive captain and 15-year NFL veteran London Fletcher is something Kerrigan says he treasures every day.
Fletcher said it's been a thrill to witness Kerrigan develop from a rookie learning a whole new position in 2011 – he was a defensive end at Purdue – to a veteran perfecting his skills in 2012.
"I think he's more comfortable in the defense this year," Fletcher said. "You know, last year he didn't have any offseason workouts, OTAs and mini-camps and things like that. He really just learned things in the fire of training camp."
As for a "sophomore slump," Fletcher said he can't imagine Kerrigan doing anything but improving upon his rookie year.
"Guys who work hard and prepare, you really don't have to worry about that," Fletcher said. "And that's what Ryan does – so he doesn't have to worry about it."