When Junior Galette went down right before the beginning of training camp with his second torn Achilles in as many summers, a shroud of disappointment filled the Bon Secours Training Facility in Richmond and all across Redskins Nation. Media pundits and fans began scanning the free agent wire to figure out who would fill Galette’s walking boot.
Unlike previous years when the organization would make a panic trade (see Taylor, Jason), the Redskins held steady. That's easier because the solution is already on their roster.
Second-year linebacker Preston Smith, the second round selection in the 2015 draft, is ready to take the position and run with it. We know he can rush the passer, as evidence by his eight-sack rookie campaign, including five over the last three games of the regular season plus a sack safety in the playoffs. The dominant offseason question centered on whether Smith would make the next step. Specifically, learn how to play the run and go from a third down pass rush specialist to an every down linebacker.
On Thursday, Smith began to answer those questions. He was one of the standout performers in the Redskins preseason loss to the Atlanta Falcons by showing he could not only pressure the quarterback but hold the edge on running plays. Three plays in particular showed that he is come a long way since last season.
The first was Atlanta’s first running play of the game. The Falcons ran right at Smith and he held his edge, tackling DeVonta Freeman for a minimal gain. On the very next play he put pressure on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan who was forced to deliver his pass early for an incompletion to Julio Jones, forcing a punt.
Atlanta chose to run right at Smith again on its next possession, this time on first down. Once again he held his edge and took on two blockers allowing, inside linebacker Will Compton to make the tackle for a one-yard loss. Preston Smith made three plays on the Atlanta Falcons first four offensive snaps of the game.
Obviously to base any opinion on one preseason game would border on insanity, so let’s compare the stats of Preston Smith’s rookie year against Junior Galette’s first three seasons as a pro. In his rookie season, Smith accounted for 30 total tackles. Galette accounted for 37 total tackles in his first THREE seasons. Including the playoffs, Smith had nine sacks last season, Galette had 9.5 in his first THREE seasons.
Smith is not only ready to make his mark in Ashburn, he is ready to take a giant step in the NFL. Let’s just hope when he steps his Achilles’ will stay in one piece.
Chuck Sapienza is the Executive Producer of the Naval Academy radio network and the former VP/Programming for ESPN980. He was also a part of the Washington Redskins Radio Network from 2009 to 2015, serving as the networks Executive Producer. He can be reached at SapienzaChuck@gmail.com
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