If it seems Perry Riley and Preston Smith talk with a similar Southern drawl, there's a reason behind it. Riley and Smith both grew up on the Atlanta area, and in fact, went to the same high school.
The more important news for Smith; veteran Riley plans to look out for the rookie linebacker.
"Most definitely," Riley said of his plans to help Smith out.
Both men played football at Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., and grew up in similar circles.
"We have plenty of conversations about it. It's fun," Riley said. "My freshman year of college was his freshman year of high school. We just missed each other, but we know all the same people just being from the same area of metro Atlanta."
A four-year veteran, Riley has earned his way into a starting spot on the Redskins defense next to Keenan Robinson. Smith will have lots of opportunities to earn playing time, and an advocate like Riley will only help.
"Preston, being a rookie, he's a big kid, athletic kid," Riley said.
Through OTAs and minicamp, Smith has looked impressive. His length will be an asset in the NFL, as his long arms will disrupt passing lanes and give him an advantage in gaining leverage against offensive lineman. With Brian Orakpo now playing for the Titans, Smith will have a chance to join Riley in the starting lineup.
The Redskins defensive unit should be improved this fall, with major free agent acquisitions along the line and in the secondary. Scot McCloughan did not spend money on the linebacker corps, instead, the expectations are for second-year man Trent Murphy and second-round pick Smith to pick up 'Rak's slack.
"It looks good out there," Riley said of the defense. "Trent has come in and done a great job this offseason, put on some weight. He's not a rookie anymore and he's playing like it."
Murphy may have the inside track on Orakpo's old starting job, but Smith will get a lot of chances at playing time. Along with his length, versatility is a major asset for Smith, who can play standing up or in the three technique along the defensive line. Pass coverage will take work for Smith, as the adjustment from college to the pros is probably most severe for rookie linebackers in that area, just as it did for Murphy. Orakpo also struggled at times in pass coverage.
Without pads on, the May and June training sessions for the Redskins truly amount to on-the-field study sessions. Rookies need to learn the defense, the calls, and the speed of the NFL. For now, Riley is encouraged.
"We're getting the scheme down. The biggest part of defense is communication, I feel good about everybody learning."
Smith should feel good too. His coaches and teammates have praised him, and he's got a fellow Stephenson Jaguar looking out for him.