Originally not having the mindset the Redskins wanted, Preston Smith altered his approach late in 2015 for a strong final month of the season. The hope is that it will continue in 2016.
Joe Barry wanted to get his message across early to Preston Smith last season.
Smith, the team's second-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, clearly had all the potential in the world, but he wasn't approaching the game the right way in Barry's eyes.
"You never know what you're going to get when you get a rookie and Preston was -- he's a phenomenal kid -- but he was young and immature and had no clue what it took to be an NFL football player and you've got to tell guys," Barry told ESPN980 recently. "I sat him down and said, 'If you want to play in this league, the way you're preparing and the way you're practicing, you're not a bad kid, but you won't last three years in this league if you continue to prepare and to act the way you're acting.'"
Barry's words did not fall on deaf ears, as Smith, who recorded a strip sack and recovery during the regular season opener, would come on strong during the Redskins' run to an NFC East title, collecting five sacks in the final three games of the season.
His eight sacks led all rookies despite being the fifth linebacker taken in the draft.
The same mindset that led to that late season surge carried over into the early stages of the offseason.
"Three months before he was [at Redskins Park for offseason workouts], he was working, he was grinding, he changed his body and he changed his mindset on the way he approaches everything and he's still not even in his second year yet, but I think the light has come on," Barry said. "Because he has so much God-given, natural ability and size and length alone that when he understands that when he plays a certain way and prepares a certain way every single day, he's got the potential to be really special."
Check out the top 10 photos of Preston Smith from the 2015 season.
Even with Junior Galette's return from a torn Achilles, the Redskins will still use Smith quite often in pass rushing situations.
"You can never have too many pass rushers, really," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said in March. "But with the emergence of Preston at the end of the year, obviously Ryan Kerrigan and Junior Galette, I feel like those are three pretty good edge rushers."
Gruden added that Smith is "more of an outside guy" but could be moved inside some, too, during the season.
"He's has to put on a little bit more weight, but Preston can move around and do a lot of different things for us," Gruden said.
Smith isn't setting a specific sack goal on himself in 2016, though.
He just wants to "go out there and play as hard as I can each game and let everything else fall into place."