With training camp set to begin July 25, Redskins.com is previewing the current state of the team's roster, continuing with the outside linebackers.
Perennial Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan headlines a young and athletic group with the potential to wreak havoc against opposing quarterbacks this season.
-- Preston Smith
-- Montez Sweat
-- Jordan Brailford
CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
The Redskins outside linebackers -- and the entire defense for that matter -- starts with Kerrigan, a ninth-year veteran who has been a model of consistency since the franchise drafted him in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Kerrigan has not missed a game in eight seasons, starting in 128 straight contests. He’s recorded at least 7.5 sacks in each of those campaigns and combined for 37 the past three seasons -- all of which resulted in Pro Bowl appearances. With 84.5 career sacks, he’s seven away from passing Dexter Manley for the most in franchise history.
Kerrigan, who turns 31 in August, is the oldest returning starter on the defense, yet there’s no signs to suggest he’ll be less effective in 2019.
“It’s definitely more of a passing league now, so you have to be able to get after the quarterback at my position. There’s no doubt about that,” Kerrigan said on The Rundown podcast in June. “You realize not to put all of your eggs in the pass-rush basket, but most of them. It’s an important job to get after the quarterback.”
Lining up opposite Kerrigan the past four seasons was Preston Smith, who signed with the Green Bay Packers in March.
Smith, a second-round pick in 2015, served as another durable and productive option for the Redskins off the edge. In 64 games he recorded 24.5 sacks -- tied for the 11th most in franchise history -- and 163 tackles to go along with four forced fumbles and interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
Without Smith, the Redskins are expecting immediate contributions from another Stone Mountain, Georgia, native: rookie Montez Sweat. Washington gave up two second-round picks -- one this year and one in 2020 -- to take the Mississippi State All-American 26th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. He seemed to validate the team's investment during offseason workouts.
Head coach Jay Gruden called Sweat a perfect fit, adding Sweat's measurables (6-foot-6, 262 pounds and a 4.41-second 40-yard dash time) are second-to-none as an NFL edge defender. Sweat has also earned the respect of Kerrigan and a no-nonsense defensive line. "He's a monster, man," veteran Mason Foster said of Sweat during OTAs.
"I have no doubt that he’s going to play a lot," Gruden said in June. "The skill set that he has is quite evident. You see his length and then you watch him run after practice and he’s faster than anybody we have probably right now. ... He eats up ground when he runs. It’s like three strides and he’s all the way across the field. It’s crazy."
Another player who could benefit from Smith's absence is Ryan Anderson, who combined for 28 tackles and two sacks since joining the Redskins in 2017.
Entering his third NFL season, Anderson has made several changes to his training routine. He's doing yoga and implementing more dynamic stretching, which has helped his mobility off the edge. He hopes these adjustments translate to increased production.
"I would say it’s do or die for me," Anderson said during minicamp in June. "But at the same time, I’m excited about the guys in the room. And I’m helping them and they’re helping me and pushing me and we’re making each other better."
Two returners who could ratchet up the competition are Marcus Smith and Cassanova McKinzy. Marcus Smith has played in 53 career games but just two for the Redskins after signing with them in December, while McKinzy was activated off the practice squad in November and played three games before landing on Injured Reserve with a torn pectoral a year ago.
Newcomers Jordan Brailford and Andrew Ankrah round out the unit. The Redskins drafted Brailford with the second-to-last pick (253rd overall) of the 2019 draft and hope his 6-foot-3, 252-pound frame and collegiate production translate at the professional ranks. Last season, he finished second in the Big 12 with nine sacks.
"Brailford has shown excellent athletic ability, quickness off the edge," Gruden said. "His athletic ability, his mental ability to pick up the defense up, he's doing a good job."
Ankrah went undrafted in 2018 but joined the Orlando Apollos of the Alliance of American Football this past spring. The Redskins signed Ankrah shortly after the league folded in April.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Based on Kerrigan's production the past three seasons, double-digit sacks seems likely. It's what unfolds opposite him that will determine this group's level of success.
The Redskins believe they have an immediate playmaker in Sweat, whose performance could improve the team's pass rush. Anderson is more of a wild card, but he's still a former second-round pick out of Alabama, which produced Redskins defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne.
The rest of the unit aims to push these projected starters, creating what Kerrigan hopes will be a strong rotation.
"I like our room right now, a cast of really dynamic guys," Kerrigan said on The Rundown podcast in June. "We’ve got some really good guys in the room, and I think we can do some really good work for the defense.”