For the Redskins, the 2010 season was a transition year to defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's 3-4 scheme. Changing the roles of the players that had thrived in the 4-3, the team experienced growing pains and slid to 31st in the league in total defense.
A necessary facet of the 3-4 is the ability to apply pressure to the quarterback by blitzing the outside linebackers. The Redskins finished 25th in the league with 29 sacks, and 13.5 coming from the outside linebacker position.
Heading into the 2011 NFL Draft, it was a goal of the organization to improve the pass rush at outside linebacker.
With their first-round pick (16th overall), the Redskins selected Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. At 6-4 and 267 pounds, Kerrigan was a blitzing force in college, tallying 37.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles.
He is expected to make the transition to outside linebacker in the NFL, much like Brian Orakpo before him.
"He plays the run extremely well, obviously a converted defensive end, that when you look at him, we think he fits our system extremely well," head coach Mike Shanahan assessed. "Not only being able to [defend] the run, but the pass."
Although Shanahan will primarily have three down linemen, he likes having the option of moving Kerrigan to defensive end in certain packages.
"When you go to a nickel situation, you feel comfortable because he is big enough, he is strong enough, he's been in that three-point stance before," Shanahan said. "He's used to playing with his hands down. I think that's a big plus for him."
In the seventh round, the Redskins addressed outside linebacker again, selecting Florida State's Markus White with the 224th overall pick.
At 6-4, 262 pounds, White spent a lot of time in the opposing backfield, collecting 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for a loss in his career.
After a successful college career, White likely fell in the draft because of past issues with seizures.
"The last seizure he had was in 2008, so hopefully that's under control," Shanahan said. "Our doctors felt very good about it, or else we would not have gone in that direction."
Like many rookie outside linebackers in the NFL, these two could be used primarily in blitzing situations, with playing time increasing as they grasp more of the defense.
Both players have the challenge of transitioning from college defensive end to professional outside linebacker. This "hybrid" switch has become common in recent years with the likes of Orakpo, Terrell Suggs and Demarcus Ware making the move.
White was excited to make the transition, explaining how it matches his style of play.
"I feel like my athleticism will show a lot more at linebacker than it will at defensive end," White said on April 30 after he was drafted by the Redskins. "And I feel like I can show my skills better at that position."
Kerrigan also said that he is unfazed by the move to linebacker.
"I think it's just seeing the game from a different perspective," he said on April 29 at his introductory press conference. "You're standing up and you kind of can see the whole field, whereas, when you're in a three-point stance, you kind of only have your straight-ahead vision. I think with some time, I can make that adjustment pretty smoothly."
That adjustment is something that the Redskins are counting on moving forward.
"We needed something opposite [Orakpo] on the other side to put some pressure," Shanahan said. "We felt like any time you can slide to a guy like Brian, you would like to have another dominating pass-rusher on the other side."
The pair joins a unit that has four veteran holdovers from last year.
The top pass rusher on the team each of the last two seasons was Orakpo, who collected 19.5 sacks in his first two seasons.
Orakpo has locked down one of the outside linebacker positions, showing tremendous ability to apply pressure from the quarterback's blindside.
His 2010 counterpart at outside linebacker was Lorenzo Alexander, a solid defender (62 tackles last year) who is still developing as a pass rusher (1.5 sacks last year). He is also a special teams ace (20 tackles).
Andre Carter lost his starting job to Alexander midseason and saw action on pass-rushing downs, logging three sacks. He was released by the Redskins this offseason.
Chris Wilson and Rob Jackson also saw action at outside linebacker last season.
Wilson was a special teams standout, collecting 17 tackles, good for second on the team. Jackson spent most of the season on the practice squad before joining the roster late in the season. He was a standout in the Redskins' 20-17 win over Jacksonville in Week 16, recording his first career sack.
Because of Kerrigan's first-round pedigree, the starting left outside linebacker position could be Kerrigan's to lose.
"I'm really looking forward to getting to work with the coaches and players like Brian Orakpo, London Fletcher and guys like that, and learning from them," Kerrigan said. "I'm really excited to be here."