The Redskins go into OTAs with competition for jobs and depth chart position at several spots on the field. Over the next week, Redskins insiders Rich Tandler and J.P. Finlay look at how these competitions stand right now and they each make the case for a potential winner.
The contenders: Ryan Kerrigan is the lone sure thing in the Redskins outside linebacker group, but that doesn't mean the unit is without talent. Kerrigan has averaged double digit sacks over the least three seasons, and it's safe to expect the same in 2017. What will be interesting to watch is who lines up opposite Kerrigan. Trent Murphy impressed last season, getting nine sacks in his first breakout season after a second-round selection in the 2014 draft. To start the 2017 season, however, Murphy will sit out the first four games for a substance violation suspension. Preston Smith slipped to five sacks after an eight sack rookie season in 2015. Those three got the vast majority of the snaps on the outside of the Redskins 3-4 base defense.
In 2017, second round pick Ryan Anderson will compete for snaps, likely right away. A highly productive player at Alabama, Anderson has the size to set the edge against the run that Washington has needed from their outside linebackers. He doesn't have the explosive athleticism of Smith, but his effort and strength will allow him to turn the corner against NFL tackles. The wild card in the outside linebacker room is Junior Galette. Blessed with elite speed off the edge, Galette proved to be a dominant edge rusher for the Saints in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He hasn't played since. Two straight years of Achilles injuries have kept Galette off the field. If he can remain healthy the Redskins would have a very deep group of highly competent edge rushers.
The winner is...
Finlay: Let's preface this by making one thing clear: No good football team can ever have enough edge rushers. NFL teams pay a serious premium on the edge, both in guaranteed money and in draft position. If the Redskins get to Week 1 with Kerrigan, Smith, Murphy, Galette and Anderson all healthy and ready to go, they will be in a strong spot. And we know the Week 1 starter won't be Murphy because of the suspension.
Beyond that, it's just too hard to predict Galette to start. Injuries have derailed him for two seasons, and he will have to show coaches he is the same player before he gets back on the field. Plus, coaches would be smart to limit Galette's snaps to true pass rushing situations to preserve his health.
That leaves Smith and Anderson, and that could be just what the Redskins brass wants. Smith is an elite athlete, but as Jay Gruden said repeatedly in 2016, the coaching staff also felt the need to push the former Mississippi State star. Maybe Anderson's presence - a hard-charging rookie - will push Smith to his best. The guess here is Smith is on the opposite side of Kerrigan against the Eagles, but Anderson will play plenty.
Looking at 2016, Kerrigan led the Redskins edge defenders with 477 pass rush snaps. Murphy and Smith were not far behind though, with 417 and 400 snaps respectively. New Washington defensive coordinator Greg Manusky plans to be aggressive, and the best defenses have fresh legs to rush passers in the fourth quarter. With Anderson's arrival, and perhaps the return of Galette, the Redskins should have just that. And that should make them a much better defense on third down, and in general.
A good assessment here by JP. I’ll add a quote from Gruden from just a few hours after the team drafted Anderson. He recalled watching film with Anderson when the prospect paid a pre-draft visit to Redskins Park:
“Watching film with him, he’s standing up watching film and talking about everybody’s job. He’s just a very high energy, high motor, tenacious guy and I think it’s going to rub off on a lot of people.”
There is no doubt that one of the people he hopes that Anderson’s attitude affects is Smith. If it does, then Smith should retain his starting job. But look for Anderson and Galette if he’s healthy and Murphy when his suspension is over to rotate in plenty. Waves of fresh, talented pass rushers are a quarterback’s nightmare and that is what Manusky would like to have at his disposal this season.
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