In his first season as defensive coordinator, Joe Barry brought knowledge and 14 years of NFL experience to the Washington Redskins' sideline.
In his 3-4 defensive scheme, every position plays a crucial part to the success or failure on any given play. So that's why Barry is especially excited about the future prospects at outside linebacker, where the unit has a proven producer and tons of young talent heading into 2016.
Leading the way, of course, is Ryan Kerrigan, a fifth-year linebacker out of Purdue, who impressed Barry with his leadership qualities — something evident in both his at-times dominant performance on the field and his presence around the team facility.
Barry admitted in a recent interview on "Redskins Nation" that he didn’t know if Kerrigan was at full strength in 2015 after struggling with nagging injuries over the past couple seasons, a true testament to his toughness and determination.
“I think we’ll never really know the answer to your question of was he 100 percent because you ask the kid and he’s like, ‘I’m fine, I’m ready to go, let’s go,’ and then he goes and works," Barry said of Kerrigan, who underwent minor knee surgery before the season and broke a bone in his hand Week 7. "I think earlier on he had the knee issue last offseason, you know, so he started a little slow, then I think he had the hand, but I think the way he finished the last eight weeks was the true Ryan Kerrigan and he’s a phenomenal player.”
Barry said there is a message that he constantly preaches to his players, and its one that Kerrigan has clearly taken it to heart: “You become what you repeatedly do.” Even if he wasn’t feeling his best, Barry credited the linebacker’s work ethic, saying that he takes no days off.
“Ryan Kerrigan is a classic warrior. I mean every day is exactly the same," Barry said. "I think that’s unbelievable is that it does not matter if it’s September or if it’s February, I see Ryan Kerrigan every single day. There’s no offseason with this guy, he is in the building every single day and I think he’s a great example of a true professional because he works his tail off.”
Kerrigan is more of a lead-by-example type of player. Instead of being too vocal on the field, his actions are incredibly impactful and Barry wants to ensure that younger players are noticing the way Kerrigan carries himself both on and off the field.
“He’s a phenomenal guy in the locker room,” Barry said. “Not a real boisterous guy, but I tell all the young guys, if you want to know how to act like a pro, watch Ryan Kerrigan. If you’re ever confused on how to work, how to act, how to practice, watch 91 because he does it right every day.”
Obviously, Kerrigan is a major component in the Redskins defense, but there are other players surrounding him that have bright futures as pass rushers in Barry's defense.
He said youngsters Preston Smith and Trent Murphy are defensively versatile and are able to change roles seamlessly when the team switches its defensive packages throughout a game.
Smith led all rookies in 2015 with eight sacks — just 1.5 sacks away from Kerrigan's team lead — while Murphy continued to progress in his second season and at times was a constant presence in the opposing team's backfield.
Barry said it's important to remember that while the team plays a base 3-4 defense, his players must master a variety of roles in several other packages. So for the younger outside linebackers like Smith and Murphy, it can take some time to really wrap their minds around their assignments.
“Well, I think the thing that, I say it all the time, that’s a little bit of a misconception with the 3-4 is that as a base 3-4 defense, which we are, we’re in 3-4 defense, we’re in base defense maybe 25 percent of the game, maybe 15 to 20 snaps a game,” Barry explained. “The other 55 to 60 snaps, the other 75 percent of the game, we’re in some kind of sub-defense. And that’s exactly what all three of those guys are, they’re defensive linemen, defensive ends when we’re in the sub package, when we are in base, they’re outside linebackers, so they are outside linebackers/defensive ends. Every single one of them are 'slash' defensive linemen.”
Looking ahead to his second season with the Redskins, Barry acknowledged the harsh reality that every team must face at the end of a season, but is also excited for the future and the new talent that the team will acquire during the NFL Draft and through free agency.
At the outside linebacker position specifically, the team could attempt to re-sign free-agent-to-be
Either way, Barry hopes to feed off the successes of the 2015 season and, for those returning, be able to build into something even more special in 2016.
“The very last thing I told them that Monday after the Green Bay [playoff] game is exactly what you said, this specific group of men in this room right now will never been together again,” Barry said. “This specific group, all these guys, a majority of you will be back, some of you will be gone, so that part of it, that’s a bummer. You know, because you spend 18 hours a day with these guys, grinding, working, sweating, bleeding, and so when it’s over, you know, it’s like, ‘Oh man.’ But then, you get away, you come back, you get the excitement of free agency starting, you get the excitement of going to the Combine and you get those potential new guys that are going to come in here. It’s great working with Scot McCloughan and his staff because I think they do as good a job as anyone in the league as far as helping us as coaches and bringing us players, so that part of it is exciting and we’re right in the middle of it, so it’s awesome.”