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From Rookie To Fullback To Starter, Ryan Anderson Has Come A Long Way In Three Years

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Despite the calls in the Redskins' locker room that rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. was heading to the podium after Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, reporters were packed in a tight crowd around Ryan Anderson's locker.

It was an unusual sight considering the media rarely focuses on Anderson, who was doing everything he could -- like playing fullback -- just to get on the field last season, but the attention was warranted. He had one of his best games, and with Ryan Kerrigan moving to Injured Reserve last week, he's getting the one thing he's craved for three seasons: opportunity.

He played in 83% of the defensive snaps on Sunday -- by far the highest of his career -- but it's a little bittersweet that it came during a loss. Anderson said as much to the mass of reporters who chose to hear him instead of the franchise quarterback.

"We lost the game. That's the worst feeling about having a great big moment and not being able to pull it out for this city and this team," Anderson said. "I'm going back to the drawing board, I've got a lot of work to do."

Whether it came during a win or loss, it's clear that Anderson has stepped up in a big way with Kerrigan leaving a gaping hole in the Redskins' linebacker corps. He had five tackles on Sunday -- one away from tying his career-high -- two sacks, a pair of quarterback hits and three forced fumbles, one of which was recovered by the defense and set up the go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter.

After back-to-back solid games from Anderson, the team is starting to take notice of how much he's improved.

"What an impressive game he had yesterday. His play on the edge has vastly improved," said interim head coach Bill Callahan. "I think he stepped up tremendously ... and I can't say enough about his makeup."

Anderson has spent most of his NFL career as a backup or rotational player since being drafted by the Redskins in the 2017 NFL Draft. Prior to this season, he had yet to start and recorded 32 tackles in 2017 and 2018 combined.

With two games left on the schedule in 2019, Anderson has 38 tackles and two starts. He also has twice as many sacks in the past four games (four) than he did in his previous 37.

Redskins safety and fellow University of Alabama product Landon Collins isn't surprised by how Anderson is playing. He even said that Anderson's numbers should be better.

"Man, he's been doing it all year. I think he should have had about 10 sacks on the year," Collins said. "That's what I expect from him. I'm happy for him, too."

Anderson was only on the field for about 13 snaps per game in his rookie season. That number dipped to about 12 snaps the following season, which wasn't nearly enough for him. So, he volunteered to play fullback just to get off the sidelines and on the field.

"I think he's doing an excellent job," running back Adrian Peterson said after last year's 31-17 win over the Green Bay Packers. "He's always coming up on the sideline, 'Hey AP, what can I do differently?' 'Hey, just play fast and I'll play off you because things change when the ball is snapped.' He's been doing a great job of allowing me to get into the end zone."

Anderson has gotten five snaps at fullback this year, but he's been used exclusively on defense for the past eight games. They've needed him at his natural position, especially in the past month.

Callahan ruled out Kerrigan days before the Redskins' Week 13 showdown in Charlotte, North Carolina. That snapped Kerrigan's streak of 139 consecutive game appearances, but it also made Anderson a starter for the first time in his career.

He played in 53% of the defensive snaps -- a career-high at the time -- and finished with six tackles in back-to-back games. Callahan said that is a product of that work Anderson has put in this season, and he has seen gradual improvement from him throughout the year.

"We rely on him everyday to be out there, be durable, tough, give you a physical effort, not only on gameday, but through the course of the practice week," Callahan said. "His overall work ethic, you can see it begin to mature and emerge to a point where he's taking his game to another level."

Anderson has continued to improve from there, especially with Kerrigan being moved to Injured Reserve two weeks later. In the following game against the Packers, he got a strip sack on Aaron Rodgers and recovered the fumble with 58 seconds left in the first half, giving the Redskins the ball with a short field and an opportunity to close their 14-6 deficit.

He repeated that effort three times Sunday against Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. The last one came with just 6 minutes, 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter and set up a 43-yard field goal that gave Washington a 27-24 lead.

"He's using a little bit more repertoire to his moves," Callahan said. "I thought you saw his edge move yesterday to beat their right tackle off the edge and create the sack fumble. … It was just good to see him have the productive day that he had yesterday."

For Anderson, it all goes back to getting more playing time on the field.

"I had more opportunities today," Anderson said after the game. "I had more opportunities. It's been rough since I got here."

Check out photos of the Washington Redskins during their regular season Week 15 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Anderson is finally getting the chance that he's wanted for three years, and he's sure to see the field more after his game on Sunday. He's still worried about what he can do to get better, though; that's all he was focused on just minutes after the final whistle.

"I know what I have to do. I'm smart enough, I understand concepts, but sometimes I just second guess myself and don't go with what I know and what I see," Anderson said. "That happened some today on plays I knew I should've just shot the lane, but I didn't do it."

Callahan agrees with him. He does still have some work to do before he becomes the player he knows he's capable of turning into. But he also believes that Anderson is coming along fine so far, and the future is definitely bright for him on this defense.

"All those things played into his emergence as a player," Callahan said. "And I hope that continues."

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