At one point this off-season, the ROLB position for the Washington Redskins was a Preston Smith vs. Trent Murphy debate. A 2015 2nd round pick (38th overall) vs. a 2014 2nd round pick (47 overall). The Redskins went out and signed controversial player Junior Galette and the debate was laid to rest. Due to a season ending injury to Galette shortly after actually practicing, the Smith vs. Murphy debate resumed where it had left off. Granted, both players will play tons of snaps this season but after all was said and done, Trent Murphy won the starting gig. I went back to the Redskins vs. Ravens to compare both Preston Smith and Trent Murphy when they were on the field at the same time to see why the coaches may have come to this decision. Let's take a look:The Ravens are running a Zone Left Play-Action Boot. Preston Smith lined up on the backside and will be unblocked while Trent Murphy is on the strong side. Trent Murphy does a good job setting the edge even though it's a decoy. Preston Smith slow plays it and rides the RT until he sees Joe Flacco pull the ball, then he switches from run-stopping to pass rush mode. Smith's explosion is evident here. After setting the edge, Murphy does a good job of picking up the leaking FB and covering him up field. Smith gets on Flacco faster than he expects but he gets the ball off just in time. Here's an interesting look. The Redskins used it a few times in this game. This looks much more like your traditional 4-3. Preston Smith is lined up on the line with 3 DL and Trent Murphy is back in more of a traditional LB spot. Preston Smith gets double-teamed at the point of attack then one of the Ravens peels due to other crashing Redskins. Smith does a good job using his length to keep OL at bay. One Raven is trying to cut-block Trent Murphy at the second level but Murphy does a good job keeping his balance. Avoiding the cut-block in the last frame, Murphy has a chance to make a tackle on the RB who cut back but misses here. The RB picks up a few more yards. The Ravens are running an Outside Zone Right here. Preston Smith is unblocked and Trent Murphy will have to set the edge. Murphy sets the edge effectively causing the RB to cut inside right into the meat of the defense. RB picks up minimal gain. On this play, Preston Smith has man coverage on the FB while lined up over the LT while Trent Murphy is running a stunt from over the RT. Murphy gets pretty stone-walled by the interior lineman. Smith does a good job mirroring FB out of the backfield to the flat. Murphy is no where near Flacco as he releases the ball. Smith has good coverage in the flat. Flacco hits Steve Smith from the slot on a corner route in man coverage vs. David Amerson and takes this for a touchdown. Here is that 4-3 look again but this time relatively flipped responsibilities from previous play. This time Trent Murphy is going to be in coverage while Preston Smith is part of a stunt. Smith waits until the last second to do the stunt, uses good footwork to basically juke back and by then the interior OL already riding DL outside opening a big whole for Smith. Murphy is at the bottom heading towards the flat. Smith gets a hit on Flacco as he is releasing the ball. The pass goes over Murphy's head to the receiver behind him. Here is Trent Murphy as a stand up LB again. He's lined up over Steve Smith in the slot. Smith lined up over the RT/TE. Ravens running left. Smith, who is unblocked, has to slow-play it until he identifies a hand off or play-action. Trent Murphy is suppose to help set edge but.... Murphy just puts his head down, gets into Steve Smith and drives him back about 10 yards. I don't know if trash-talking or something else earlier in the game lead to Murphy feeling like he needed to impose his will but it was certainly different. I posted a vine of it earlier this week. Murphy and Smith both rushing on this pass play. Murphy at the top of the screen and Smith is at the bottom. Both Murphy and Smith take jab steps and make moves to the inside. Murphy beats his guy more than Smith does but the ball is already out. To be fair, Murphy was working against a TE while Smith was working against the RT. Both players pass-rushing again. Murphy at the top; Smith at the bottom. It ends up being a screen pass on each side of the formation. Smith tries to use his length to bat down the pass while Murphy, on his side, feels the screen, and tries to hold a blocker from getting out in front. Neither player was involved in the tackle but both players show great effort in pursuit from where they were when Ravens RB caught the ball. The Ravens are running the ball to the right on this play. Smith is at the bottom of the screen; Murphy at the top. Smith uses a great punch to set the edge causing the RB to cut inside early. Trent Murphy looks like he has a clean shot at the RB but the TE is about to peel back and cut-block him. As you can see, Murphy misses his chance at a tackle. Here's a Left Outside Zone Play-Action Boot. Trent Murphy in that stand-up LB spot with Preston Smith over the LT/TE. Preston Smith does a good job setting the edge at the top of the screen. Trent Murphy sees the FB leaking to the flat and picks him up in coverage. Smith doesn't stop in his pursuit and gives chase while Flacco has the ball. Murphy gets away with holding here. Ravens are running an Outside Zone Left here. Smith at the point of attack; Murphy over the RT unblocked. Smith sets the edge well again, forcing the RB to cut inside of him. As soon as Smith sees the RB commit to inside, he pulls a spin move back inside to clog the hole. Smith helps make the tackle with other defenders. This is such a good play. Here we have Preston Smith at the bottom in man coverage with the TE and Trent Murphy rushing from up top. Murphy is going for an inside move to turn the LT's back because the LB is blitzing outside. This is very sketchy footwork by Preston Smith. He will need to work on this. Fortunately, the TE route is just a clear out route to open up Steve Smith underneath. DeAngelo Hall now has to go around them. Murphy makes his inside move and LT controls him pretty easily, rides him further inside. Smith is relatively close to TE but Flacco could probably throw him open. Murphy not near Flacco on pass rush; the blitzing LB was though. The Ravens are going to run up the middle here. Smith at the bottom of the screen; Murphy at the top. Smith gets up-field in a hurry on this play. Murphy takes on the block of the TE at the top. The RT uses Smith's up-field momentum against him to cut him off from RB. Trent Murphy clearly being held at the top of the screen. The defense surrounds RB though and he gains only a few yards. Ravens are running Outside Zone Right. Murphy is at the point of attack and Smith is on the backside unblocked. Joe Flacco fumbles the snap. Again, Smith is unblocked here. Flacco runs backwards and just gives the ball to the RB. Completely busted play and Smith should have had a tackle in backfield but Justin Forsett makes a move around him.... ....and leaves him on the ground.
This is only the first quarter. I broke down the second quarter as well and it showed much of the same. Based on this film, I can only conclude that Trent Murphy was named the starter because he has one year of experience. That is it. But as you can see, it's not providing him a terrible amount of advantage in any of the above situations. Both Preston Smith and Trent Murphy were strong at setting the edge in the run game and holding the point of attack. Both were reasonable in coverage based on their coverage responsibilities, but could both use continued improvement in that aspect.
The only true trait that sets them apart is athletic upside; that goes to Preston Smith. When watching film, you can see he just has a different kind of burst when locked in. This was the gripe most had with the Trent Murphy pick in 2014. He never showed the athleticism to beat LTs in the NFL. Therefore, his ceiling never appeared higher than Ryan Kerrigan's back-up. At least, if he stayed at OLB.
Even though he shouldn't, Preston Smith is going to have to wait to be the starter. Talking to fans, the general consensus is they think it takes 3-4 games before he takes over the spot. The quicker the better because the Redskins are going to need their best players on the field to turn this ship around.