Still learning and developing in his rookie year, linebacker Preston Smith is showing signs that he is figuring it out, his coaches say.*
Coming out of Mississippi State, the Washington Redskins' scouts, as well as their coaches, couldn't help but be excited about the potential of Preston Smith.
A monster of a man at 6-foot-5, 271 pounds – and still with room to grow and shape his frame – Smith became one of the best defensive players in the SEC in 2014, collecting nine sacks at the defensive end position.
By showing off the ability to play all over the line, as well as in coverage, in the Redskins' 3-4 defensive scheme under coordinator Joe Barry, Smith's selection was a no-brainer for general manager Scot McCloughan when Washington was on the clock with the 38th overall selection in May's NFL Draft.
Since that time, Smith has turned in a productive rookie year for the Redskins, while he continues to learn from his coaches and the veterans around him how to become a complete professional football player.
Barry said he doesn't want to throw a ton of praise the rookie's way so he'll stay hungry, but has noticed something click in Smith in recent weeks.
"Preston is starting to kind of string a few good weeks along," Barry said. "That's what being a great pro is – consistently showing up every single day, being great in meetings, being great in walkthroughs, being great in practice. Because when you get to that point and you figure it out, when you're consistent in every aspect of your life then it shows up on Sundays."
Through his first 11 games, Smith has collected 25 tackles, four tackles for a loss, 15 quarterback pressures, two passes defended with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery each. He also has three sacks, ranking third on the team behind Ryan Kerrigan (6.5) and Chris Baker (5).
Smith says he can see small improvements from earlier this season, as the repetitions in practices and in games have truly paid off.
Check out images of rookie linebacker Preston Smith during his first few months with the Washington Redskins.
"When we look at the film, it's kind of like, 'Wow'. You see how much you progress through the season after simple mistakes you make then or the little things you did wrong then," Smith said. "You correct them throughout the season, and be like, 'Man, I can't believe I did that.' So you have to make sure you don't repeat those mistakes next game."
Smith has continued to split reps with Trent Murphy at the right outside linebacker position, and has even given Kerrigan a breather at times. So as both Murphy and Smith continue to strive for the consistency needed from their defensive coordinator, the team can rest easy knowing it has two up-and-coming playmakers on the edge getting tons of reps early in their career.
"You'd like to have big, long athletes in your building at a young age because they can develop in your weight room and in your program," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said of Smith and Murphy. "They have talent. You can see each of them has shown flashes of it.
"Both of them I think are coming along at a good rate. We expect a lot out of them. They're playing very important positions for us. It's a run-stopping position. Then on third down it's a position where we need the pressure, and they're still working on that."