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Rookie LB turning heads in Redskins Park, but competition looms

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Rookie LB turning heads in Redskins Park, but competition looms

Drafted in the second round, Preston Smith has just about every physical tool imaginable. At 6'5" with 34 inch arms, Smith has length that will disrupt NFL offenses. While he played mostly defensive end in college, Smith projects as an outside linebacker in the Redskins 3-4 scheme, and the rookie could be the player to replace the departed Brian Orakpo.

Not much of OTAs have been open to the media, but in the sessions that are, it's clear that Smith is impressing the coaches. From May to June, Smith has seen an increase in reps with the first team defense. Now it seems like Smith is splitting time with Trevardo Williams, and the second year linebacker talked about the rookie.

"He has a lot of gifts. His height, his weight, his flexibility," Williams said of Smith. "He has a lot of assets."

MORE REDSKINS: CHECKING OUT THE NEW DEFENSIVE LINE 

Flexibility is a key word for Smith, who has the size to rush the passer from the interior and, Washington brass hopes, the speed to keep up on the edge and in coverage where needed. Going upfield is the plan for Smith, but as with Orakpo, occasionally covering a tight end or running back in space will come into play. 

"He’s done some good things," 'Redskins coach Jay Gruden said of Smith. "He’s learning like all these rookies are. We’re throwing a lot at these guys for a reason."

One of the good things Smith did last week was get his big hands up to knock down a Colt McCoy pass. The sound of the blocked pass sounded like a deep thud, similar to a blocked shot in basketball. With his arm length and large hands, the Redskins hope to see more of that this fall.

"To get Preston where we got him, we were very excited," Washington defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "He is a good, young, talented kid, and I’m sure his head is spinning a little bit right now, like most rookies. But he comes to work every day and he’s doing a great job."

The praise for Smith has been measured, and rightfully so. Regardless of the All-SEC pedigree at MIssissippi State, he is still a rookie and undoubtedly will make mistakes. And there will be plenty of competition for Orakpo's old spot.

Williams has been getting starting reps, and there is also last season's second round pick Trent Murphy. Both players work very hard in the weight room and on the practice field, and the coaches like and respect that. Gruden specifically mentioned Murphy as a player standing out during the OTA sessions.

"He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s rushing the passer extremely well, he’s getting off the ball very well right now," Gruden said of Murphy. "I think I’m expecting him to make the biggest jump from first year to second year on our football team because not only is he bigger but he knows the position."

Where Murphy and Smith have high expectations as second round picks, Williams does not. He was picked in the fourth round by the Texans in 2013, but never played in Houston after spending a year on the injured reserve. Last season, he landed on the Redskins roster late in the year after a stint with the Colts. Too young to be a journeyman but on that route, Williams recorded a sack in the Redskins best win of the year, a late December victory over the Eagles that knocked Philadelphia from playoff contention. 

The coaches must remember that sack of Mark Sanchez, or like Williams' work ethic. Either way, he is getting reps with the first defensive unit.

"It's great being able to practice with the first. It's always a good opportunity to have an open window," Williams said. "And to seize it. I'm taking advantage where I can."

Too much can be made about being a starter on an NFL defense, especially at the outside linebacker position in a 3-4 defense. Depending on the call, and the opponent's offense, the Redskins will be making near constant substitutions and package changes. This team will play a lot of nickel coverage, and players like Murphy, Smith and perhaps even Williams will be in the game as pass rushers. Don't forget Jackson Jeffcoat too

"We’re going to give you a bunch of different looks when we are in our base group and when we are in our sub groups," Barry said.

There are options to replace Orakpo. There will certainly be intense competition once the team gets to Richmond and starts hitting. 

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A Madden ratings performance adjustor explains what goes into the job that everyone's jealous of

A Madden ratings performance adjustor explains what goes into the job that everyone's jealous of

Even on a field filled with NFL players, experienced coaches and a few celebrities, Clint Oldenburg stood out. 

It wasn’t because of his stature or that he used to play pro football, either.

It was due to his jacket.

A jacket, which led to a photo, which led to a tweet, which led to unexpected Internet fame, all thanks to the four words written on Oldenburg’s back: “Madden Ratings Performance Adjustor.”

Oldenburg was spending Week 9 at FedEx Field, sent by EA Sports to get more information on Adrian Peterson at that afternoon’s Redskins-Falcons game. The future Hall of Famer is in the middle of a comeback season, so Oldenburg was charged with checking in on him.

4.5 million Twitter impressions later, Oldenburg now knows that countless people are supremely jealous of his weekend vocation.

"I wasn’t really engaging on my cell phone during the game, and then when I was catching my cab to the airport after the game I looked at it and said, ‘Holy crap,’” he said in a recent phone interview.

"I was in shock as to what was happening.”

A fifth-round pick of the Patriots in 2007, Oldenburg also had brief stints with the Jets and a few others, including the Redskins. These days, he spends Monday-Friday working to make Madden’s gameplay better.

But he’s also a part of the Ratings Adjustor team, a small group of evaluators who travel to stadiums, observe players and submit their notes to a fellow employee. That primary analyst takes their notes into account and then has the final say on every player’s precious overall rating, which can fluctuate with each Madden update. 

Now, you may find the idea of sending someone to the site of a matchup to do this gig a bit preposterous. But according to Oldenburg, being there in-person does make a major difference.

"The benefits of the sideline really are for pregame,” he explained. “Just seeing how guys are working in pregame, getting a close-up view of their actual athletic skills, their footwork.”

Oldenburg also likes the “better perspective” he gets once the action kicks off. For example, while focusing on Peterson during the Burgundy and Gold’s loss to Atlanta, he felt like No. 26 missed some cutback lanes, something Oldenburg always finds himself paying attention to thanks to his days battling along the line.

Much like the thousands of social media users who shared various reactions about his job, players take an interest in him as well.

While in Landover, kicker Dustin Hopkins found Oldenburg on the sideline and passed along a request: That day, the team was planning on kicking off short as opposed to through the end zone, so Hopkins wanted to make sure his kick power wouldn't be decreased. 

"They wanna come talk about what we’re doing,” Oldenburg said about the athletes he’s tasked with grading. "Information like that is always valuable."

After his playing career wrapped up, Oldenburg jumped into an internship working on the video game that he loved growing up. “Everything took off” after that 10-week program, and he’s been enjoying it ever since.

"I always had to scratch and claw for everything I got,” he said near the end of the call. "I wanted to find a career that I knew I’d be happy doing.”

In the end, he landed in a career that makes him happy. And as one viral tweet showed, plenty of others would be happy in his role too. 

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Don't look now but Redskins drafts are starting to produce among the NFL's best

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Don't look now but Redskins drafts are starting to produce among the NFL's best

For years, maybe decades, the Redskins did not treat the NFL Draft with the seriousness of the best teams in the league. 

The organization often traded away important picks for veterans, and when Washington did make picks, they missed. 

T.J. Duckett for a third-round selection? Sure.

Malcolm Kelly, Fred Davis and Devin Thomas in the second round? Sure.

A second-round pick for Donovan McNabb? Sure. 

The trade to acquire Robert Griffin III doesn't even need to be mentioned. That trade, while giving up a boatload of first-round picks, at least produced an NFC East title, even if it ended spectacularly. 

Anyway, enough about how things used to be run. Things are run differently now, and the results are obvious. 

The 2018 Redskins defense contains plenty of draft picks. The team found first-round success with Daron Payne and Johnathan Allen, but also late round picks like Greg Stroman and Matt Ioannidis.

Offensively, many of the biggest names came through the draft, even if some are injured now. Jordan Reed, Chris Thompson, Brandon Scherff, Morgan Moses, Josh Doctson. All draft picks, some early, some late, some mid-rounders. 

Add it all up and it shows the Redskins have overhauled their personnel philosophy. The NFL draft has become the centerpiece of team building, not free agency. 

This procedural change was a long time coming, and it's working. 

Keep in mind the above stat means draft picks still playing in the NFL but doesn't necessarily mean still playing on the team that drafted them. For the Burgundy and Gold, that means players like Kendall Fuller of the Chiefs, Ryan Grant of the Colts, Spencer Long of the Jets and Brian Orakpo of the Titans. 

Bigger picture, however, it means the Redskins are drafting and drafting well. Nearly half of the current 53-man roster came from Redskins draft picks, and that doesn't include undrafted success stories like Quinton Dunbar, Maurice Harris and Danny Johnson. 

The Redskins have become a team focused on acquiring more picks in each draft, even letting their own home grown players walk to pile up compensatory picks. 

It's a formula many successful teams like the Packers and Patriots have used for a long time.

In Washington, it's a relatively new way to design the roster, but it seems much more effective than the old way. 

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