Last year's second-round pick Ryan Anderson made his official return to practice on Tuesday after being limited with nagging back injuries during the first four days of training camp at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va. He's turning the heads of Redskins coaches and teammates with strong play, evident in early drills that's led him to take reps with the first team defense towards the end of practices.
After going through his first true NFL offseason, Anderson is hoping that an atypical routine will allow him to become a breakout player among the Redskins outside linebacker core this year. While he did dress in 14 of the 16 games during his rookie campaign, the former Alabama standout noted that he didn't feel that he was working hard enough to make a valuable contribution to the Washington defense.
These high expectations that Anderson has placed upon himself makes him an intriguing player to watch throughout the rest of training camp. His commitment to readjusting his work ethic should excite outside linebackers coach Chad Grimm because the Daphne, Ala., native remains an exciting prospect with plenty of potential to become a vaunted pass rusher.
“I feel like I didn’t approach it the way I should’ve approached last year," Anderson said. "Being a rookie, not really understanding how long the season was, how good a lot of these guys are. I didn’t take care of my body like I should have. Right now, I’m really in tune to my body, how I’m eating and just keeping everything up and stuff that I’m trying to slow down. I got the defense down. I’m not worried about how offense is doing at a certain personnel. It’s starting to slow down for me.”
"As a rookie, you know, I think a lot of the guys have high expectations their coming in and leading the league in sacks and tackles and force fumbles and passes batted down and all that stuff," head coach Jay Gruden said. "But, in reality you gotta earn your stripes, especially if you’re playing behind somebody of great quality like Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith."
While he played against some of the nation's best athletes during his time in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the transition from the collegiate to professional level didn't come easy for the second-year linebacker. The major change that Anderson focused on greatly throughout the offseason was a complete overhaul in the way he consumes his food; it's a change that should allow him to keep up from a conditioning standpoint with the rest of the defense.
“I changed my diet a lot, man," Anderson said after practice on Tuesday. "When I finished the year out, I was heavy. I’m from the country, man. I always ate mic bones, collard greens and macaroni, man. Ain’t no damn veal or none of that. I finally got myself on a good little diet. Got away from the fried stuff. It worked for me.
"My body feels so much better. A lot more looser, you know what I mean? I feel a lot better.”
Indeed, Anderson's development in his second season will rely heavily on how much he can learn from Kerrigan, Pernell McPhee and Smith.
He really couldn't have landed in a more ideal situation when trying to address his conditioning issues because the aforementioned linebackers are some of the most durable players among the Redskins defense, with the three-time Pro Bowler in Kerrigan failing to miss one regular season game in his eight-year career and the former Mississippi State Bulldog in Smith appearing in all of his 48 eligible games in three years as a professional.
"He’s [Anderson] always been great mentally, but he does have a new determined attitude and he’s looking to make that kind of impact," Grimm said during minicamp. "He’s always been helping this team win games. So it’s been exciting with his mindset and how he’s been this year.”
The Washington Redskins conducted their fifth day of training camp practice Tuesday, July 31, 2018 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.
With potentially having to play under Smith, Kerrigan and McPhee, the Alabama product's chances to impress are in these remaining two weeks of training camp.
A rare four-year player under Nick Saban, Anderson became accustomed (and rightfully so) to being the center of attention on the Crimson Tide defense, a role he has yet to earn in his time with the Redskins. Anderson understands that at the professional level, there is a higher expectation that you can do more with less opportunity to demonstrate your skills.
"I mean I think the biggest adjustment, as coming from your rookie into your second year, is the professionalism," right tackle Morgan Moses said. "You know, you can see when he [Anderson] comes into the building every day he has something he wants to work on whether it’s on the field or off the field. Is it getting stronger in the weight room, the knowledge of the game, watching the game on your iPad or whatever it is, more understanding the defense and concepts. You can see that about him. When he walks around, you know, he instead of talking all the time, he gives you like the head nod [and] he’s on his way doing something.
"I think that's a good thing for him, and I think, you know, you can tell the leadership is rubbing [off] on him – as in Ryan Kerrigan and, you know, Preston [Smith] and [Pernell] McPhee, the older guys in the room. That he’s starting to shape his way into that professionalism as a football player."