Only three players -- Chandler Jones, J.J. Watt and Von Miller -- have more sacks than Redskins' pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan since 2011, the same year Washington drafted the Purdue product 16th overall.
A year ago, the pass rusher turned in the worst season of his career, one he explained he "never puts on film again." But as Kerrigan enters the final year of his current contract with the Burgundy and Gold, there's been one major change on defense that positions the pass rusher for a bounce-back campaign.
Under new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, Kerrigan will line up as an edge rusher in a 4-3 base defense, marking the first time the pass rusher will have played in that defensive scheme in his professional career. In a Zoom call with local media on Thursday, Kerrigan said he is excited for the change.
"I'm excited to get to work in a 4-3 for the first time in my NFL career. I've been a 3-4 guy my whole career," Kerrigan said. "To have the chance to play in a system like this is really exciting. Just going through the Zoom meetings the past couple of months getting to learn what they expect from us on the edge, it's exciting."
By transitioning from an outside linebacker in a 3-4 to and edge rusher in a 4-3, Kerrigan will presumably have more opportunities to rush after the passer than he did previously. Under previous defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, Kerrigan and other edge rushers were often asked to drop back in coverage, which allowed opponents to find mismatches and attack them.
In the 4-3 base, Kerrigan will have the opportunity to play more forward, something the pass rusher has explained he hasn't truly had the chance to do since his days at Purdue.
"It's exciting for us up front. They want us playing fast, they want us playing physical, they want us playing in our opponent's backfield," Kerrigan said. "It's kind of similar to how they used my teammates and myself in college, that kind of way up front. So that's kind of exciting for me."
Although at times it appeared rather obvious, Kerrigan refused to say that he was misused under Manusky and in previous systems.
"I don't feel like I was misused over the years. I feel like that's what the defense called for," Kerrigan said. "Sometimes they wanted us rushing, sometimes they wanted us in coverage. That's really all defenses, 4-3s included. Every now and then, you're going to have to drop, just not quite as much as we did in the 3-4."
When asked about the change, Kerrigan simply continued to express his excitement for what's to come this fall.
"They said they want us going forward and doing what we do best, and that's what we're excited about doing," Kerrigan said.
Kerrigan is not the only one who is expected to benefit from the schematic change on defense. Washington drafted pass rusher Chase Young second overall in April, and the Ohio State product is expected to be a future star and an instant contributor right away. Washington also has 2019 first-round pick Montez Sweat, who showed plenty of promise towards the end of his rookie season.
With Kerrigan entering the final year of his deal and the Redskins clear investments in young pass rushers, there was a time earlier this offseason where it was fair to wonder what Kerrigan's role in 2020 would be.
But in January, head coach Ron Rivera said on the record that the 31-year-old would be part of the team's plan this season. Even if Kerrigan loses snaps to both Young and Sweat, he'll still be in a position to make an impact when he's on the field.
"I guess we'll just see how it plays out when the game time comes," Kerrigan said on splitting reps this season. "I'm just hoping to make as many plays as possible, and I think this defense will give us that opportunity upfront."
Although Kerrigan is contractually only on the books for this season, the pass rusher repeatedly said he hopes to finish his career with the only franchise he's ever played for.
"I obviously hope to be here for the duration of my football career, however long that is," Kerrigan said. "I'm hoping to be a big part of this team and this defense."
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