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Redskins Position Outlook: Outside Linebacker has talent, more on the way, maybe

Redskins Position Outlook: Outside Linebacker has talent, more on the way, maybe

Over the next few weeks, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2016, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2017. We’re starting things off with a look at the running backs.

Outside Linebacker

Starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith

Backups: Trent Murphy, Lynden Trail

Injured/Reserve: Junior Galette, Houston Bates

Free agents: Junior Galette

Redskins Position Outlook: Running back | Defensive line

Rewind: Though the Washington defense struggled mightily in 2016, the outside linebackers performed relatively well. The team tied for ninth in the NFL with 38 sacks, with more than 60 percent of that production coming from the outside 'backers.

Ryan Kerrigan led the team with 11 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl. Kerrigan played through a litany of injuries and sealed an important December win with a strip/sack of Eagles QB Carson Wentz. While many expected a big year from second-year man Preston Smith, it was actually a breakthrough season for third-year pro Trent Murphy that stabilized the outside rush for the 'Skins. 

Murphy's eight sacks and particularly strong start to the season caught some by surprise and delivered on the promise he showed at Stanford. Smith actually regressed in Year 2 with five sacks, after a disruptive eight sack campaign as a rookie. 

For the second straight season, many Redskins fans were excited to see Junior Galette rush quarterbacks for the Burgundy and Gold. And for the second straight season, those fans were disappointed when Galette sustained an Achilles injury in the summer and was lost for the year. 

Fast forward: Looking ahead to next season it seems a relatively safe bet to again expect at least 20 sacks from the combination of Kerrigan/Murphy/Smith, but coaches should want much more. Smith needs to develop more pass rushing moves and not rely on athleticism as much, where Murphy's late season dip in production could be attributed to nagging injuries.

If Kerrigan continues his double-digit sack pace, and there's every reason to believe he will, and Murphy or Smith can break through to 10 or more sacks, then the Redskins pass rush would be one of the more potent in the league. A jump of five sacks or more from the trio seems quite doable, especially if Smith can return to his rookie form, and that would put the 'Skins D in the QB-terrorizing territory of Denver and Seattle.

And all of that is before we even mention Junior Galette, who posted to his Instagram account he has re-signed with the team.

Washington absolutely cannot count on Galette this fall. It's tough, but reality. After two straight lost seasons - granted to relatively fluky injuries - any production from Galette needs to be viewed as a bonus, not expected.

Keep in mind, however, his last two healthy seasons in 2013 and 2014 he posted 22 sacks for the Saints. Galette has elite speed off the edge that the trio of Kerrigan, Smith and Murphy don't possess. Or he at least had it before the injuries. The focus for Galette needs to be making it in uniform Week 1, not sack numbers.

Beyond those four, it's still entirely possible Scot McCloughan will draft an edge rusher. In the first round or the fourth round, the 2017 Draft is loaded with talent that could play outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. 

New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is expected to be more aggressive than his predecessor Joe Barry, which could be helpful especially for a player like Smith. Another factor to consider is Murphy will be playing in a contract year.

While the 'Skins outside linebackers have proved capable of getting to the passer, the group routinely misses assignments in the run game and does a poor job of containing the edge. Maybe some of that is scheme, but the guys have to get better in that arena. 

A good unit in 2016, the Redskins outside linebackers have the potential to be great. Maybe Manusky will harness that.

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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New Giants QB Colt McCoy thinks both Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones have 'a ton of potential'

New Giants QB Colt McCoy thinks both Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones have 'a ton of potential'

Veteran quarterback Colt McCoy has spent over a decade in the NFL and been in the same room as some talented quarterbacks along the way. In 2019, McCoy had an up-close look at Redskins first-round draft pick Dwayne Haskins, as the two -- along with Case Keenum -- competed for the starting job in training camp and spent the entire season in the same QB room.

After spending six years with the Redskins, McCoy signed a one-year deal in March to stay in the NFC East with the Giants. in New York, Jones will likely serve as the backup to Daniel Jones, another first-round pick from the 2019 NFL Draft.

During his introductory media session with the Giants on Wednesday, McCoy was naturally asked about the Redskins second-year passer. The veteran used the opportunity to praise both Haskins and his new young quarterback teammate.

"I think Dwayne has a ton of potential, just like Daniel," McCoy said. "I think Daniel played a little bit more [last] year, so he probably has a little more experience. But both of those guys were highly sought after in the draft last year. They both had great college careers and they both have a ton of skill at playing the position."

Last season, the Giants won both matchups between the two squads. Haskins made his NFL debut in the Redskins Week 4 loss to New York, and looked uninspiring. Coming in for an injured Keenum, Haskins threw three interceptions, as New York won handily.

But when the two teams squared off in Week 16, Haskins was a different and much-improved quarterback. The Ohio State product completed 12 of his 15 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, and was on his way to the best game of his young career before an ankle injury in the third quarter ended his afternoon, and then his season.

Jones also dazzled in that Week 16 matchup, a game that resulted in a Giants' 41-35 overtime win. The Giants passer turned in his best game as a pro, throwing for a career-high five touchdowns and 352 yards in the victory.

After spending a season working alongside Haskins, McCoy is looking forward to having the opportunity to work with another young quarterback in Jones.

"I know Dwayne is very talented throwing the football," he said. "I’m excited to work with Daniel after having worked with Dwayne last year. I know he has a bright future. His future is bright, his ceiling is high and he seems like a really great person."

Now with the Giants, McCoy is excited for the chance to face Washington, a place he called home for six seasons.

"I get to play against the Redskins for at least this year, and we’ll see what happens," he said. "It should be fun."

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Buffalo Bills GM believes the Redskins misused Josh Norman in their system

Buffalo Bills GM believes the Redskins misused Josh Norman in their system

When it comes to Josh Norman's largely disappointing stint with the Redskins, the blame pie for that stint has two dominant slices.

One of those slices belongs to Norman, obviously. His performance in Washington never matched the massive contract he signed in 2016, and by his last year with the team, he was essentially unplayable. 

He also was involved in lots of non-football activities — from Dancing with the Stars to appearing on pregame shows to jumping over bulls in Spain — and while NFL players absolutely deserve to live their lives the way they want, those things were easy to criticize as his on-field production waned.

However, the front office and coaches own a slice of the pie, too, and it's a hefty one. The Burgundy and Gold made Norman the highest-paid corner in the sport and then inexplicably put him in situations that didn't suit him over and over again. Instead of letting him use his instincts more in zone coverage, for instance, the Redskins left him in spots where his lack of speed was exposed. 

That idea that Norman was misused is something Bills GM Brandon Beane brought up on Thursday. Norman signed with Buffalo in March after Washington released him in February:

Some fans won't want to give Norman any excuse for what transpired during his tenure with the Redskins, but Beane definitely has a point. Even though Norman is much older now than he was when he landed in D.C., don't be surprised if he has a resurgence in 2020 as long as Beane and the Bills are true to their word and devise a better plan for him.

Now, the promising part for Redskins fans is that Ron Rivera has a reputation for getting the absolute most out of players, something that Kendall Fuller and many others have noted. So while Norman's talents were wasted to a certain extent in the past, those kinds of failures will hopefully be much more limited in the future.

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