In the NFL, pressuring the opposing quarterback is a premium skill. But pressuring, and then also taking down, the opposing quarterback is even more valued.
As a rookie for the Redskins in 2015, Preston Smith did more of the latter on his way to compiling eight sacks, which was a very high number for a first-year pro. That total was almost cut in half in his second year, though, as Smith had just four and a half takedowns in 2016.
Whether or not No. 94 has heard the favorite phrase of crotchety people everywhere about close only counting in horseshoes and hand grenades, he can at least definitely relate to it after a sophomore campaign in which he reached passers plenty, but just couldn't get them to the ground in time.
And that's something he believes he must address heading into 2017.
"I just feel like I had a lot of opportunities to get more sacks, and just in the moment, didn't capitalize," Smith told Redskins Insider JP Finlay during a #RedskinsTalk podcast conversation. "I missed a lot of sacks. There was a lot of real close ones."
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Smith then reviewed the almost-sacks that pained him the most, including a few against the Bears where Matt Barkley was barely able to get the ball out before his knee hit the ground and one against Ben Roethlisberger where the Steelers legend completed a pass despite having the defender on him.
It was also very evident in the 24-year-old's tone that this was something he really finds difficult about being in the NFL (in fact, he told Finlay earlier in the chat he has given up fried foods this offseason, and his voice was nowhere near as sad then as it was when running through the near-sacks).
"It's like you work hard to get a sack, and sometimes, OK, you get there, and the quarterback's throwing the ball while he's falling or even though you're attached to him," he said. "It's frustrating, and that's pretty much my whole  season, it was a frustrating season. Because I can get there. It wasn't a problem of getting there."
The negative side of getting to his targets a moment too late in his second season is that it led to that glaring difference in his overall stats. But is there a positive side?
Well, in a way, yes — Smith understands exactly what he needs to do better to bounce back for the Redskins starting in the fall.
"When I get to the quarterback this year, I just know," he said. "I have to have those opportunities, I have to create those moments where he has no chance to get the ball off."
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