The Redskins defense displayed weaknesses at all three levels last season. However, one unit flexed its strengths at times. By all appearances, the pass rush from the linebacker position will continue blossoming in the coming seasons.
Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan led the Redskins with 9.5 sacks. That's down from his career-high 13.5 in 2014, but he dealt with knee issues before the season and a busted hand during it. Rookie Preston Smith followed Kerrigan with eight sacks even though he came off the bench for much of his first season while learning the NFL ropes. Both should be physically and mentally ready for 2016.
Kerrigan signed a five-year, $57.5 million contract extension last summer that goes into effect this coming season. The contract locks up the 27-year-old through his prime seasons. He’s excited to be spending what figure to be his best years in Washington.
“It’s fun to know that I’m going to be here for a long time,” Kerrigan said. “I love the Redskins. I love Washington, D.C. And I’m happy to be here."
The recent hiring of Greg Manusky to fill a new position on Jay Gruden’s coaching staff as outside linebackers coach figures to further bolster the pass rush. Smith, coming off of a stellar rookie season, may prove to be the biggest beneficiary of Manusky’s hands-on instruction.
"Well I think just as a rookie, just figuring it out," Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan said at last week's Senior Bowl of Smith's growth. "It’s not easy for those guys and all of a sudden…a lot of stuff with him is technique work. Being able to have a coach that can work with him – especially that we hired Manusky now – that he’s just I think going to keep going and going."
Should the Redskins re-sign free agent Junior Galette, who missed the entirety of his first season with the team due to a torn Achilles, another proven pass rusher joins the team’s stable. In his final two seasons with the Saints, Galette notched a combined 22 sacks prior joining the Redskins,
A look at the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos proves the age-old adage that defense wins championships. It also shows where the Redskins’ defense needs to improve. When it comes to pressuring opposing quarterbacks, Washington may be too reliant on the blitz. Still, the fact that the blitz was largely successful last season is a solid building block that the defense can use this offseason.
“If guys work hard this offseason and aren’t satisfied with going 9-7 and being out in the first round of the playoffs,” Kerrigan said. “I think we’ll be even better next year.”
Dan Roth is a freelance sportswriter and Breaking Burgundy contributor. Follow Dan on Twitter @danrothdc.
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