While linebacker Preston Smith had some inconsistencies on the field last year, he's excited for his third year in the league with Greg Manusky on board as defensive coordinator.
Redskins linebacker Preston Smith knows that last year was filled with inconsistent play and that his statistics didn't reflect the progression he was hoping to take after a breakout rookie campaign, in which he gobbled up eight sacks and came on strong during the second half of the year.
But the Mississippi State product is hopeful that a few changes this offseason – some personal, some with the team – will help him get back on track and make a bigger splash for this third year in the league.
That's started with his offseason, which he spent in Atlanta, Ga., to be closer to his family and his daughter. Last year, he spent the majority of his time in Ashburn, Va., and made occasional trips down to Georgia, but in his second offseason, he wanted to spend more time in a stable environment.
There he worked with three pass rushing coaches – Nathan O'Neill, Buddy Primm and Lilian Abdelmalek – hoping to gain better footwork and hand placement through their drills, to cut down those precious extra seconds on his way to a quarterback.
"[Last year] wasn't like my rookie year or better," Smith said. "A lot of unfortunate stuff happened. I feel like I could have finished better on some sacks and the quarterback, if he wasn't throwing the ball while he was falling or trying to get the ball off, I would have had more sacks, but I feel like just some stuff to improve on this offseason is securing sacks and making sure the quarterback can't easily get the ball off."
Smith's second season in the league saw his sack total drop to 4.5 over the course of the 16 games that he started. He found pockets of success though, including in a victory over the Vikings in which he secured his first career interception.
With the new training regimen, Smith is committed to looking forward and not be pressured by the expectations brought on by his rookie stats.
"I'm not trying to make the first game this year better than the first game my rookie year," Smith said. "If you live in the past, good things aren't going to happen for you. I got to forget about what happened in my rookie year and last year and focus on the task at hand: that's to be better and to make sure I do my part to help us have a successful season."
Check out the top 10 photos of Preston Smith from the 2015 season.
The second part of that equation is new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who coached Smith and the outside linebackers last season. What excites Smith about his promotion is Manusky's ability to listen to his players and implement drills and routines that they feel will help in their improvement.
"He listened to what we had to say," Smith said. "He would try to implement it in practice and if we feel like we need to work on something, or we feel like we can do something to help us as a unit, he'll listen, he really took it into play and tried to help us get better He did whatever it took."
As someone known to be loud and boisterous on the field, Manusky, according to Smith, didn't resort to antics like that in the meeting room. Manusky, he said, knew how to get his points across while still treating the players like men.
As the defense looks to improve in various facets from last year, Smith believes Manusky will get players to work as a unit instead of just as individual performers.
"I feel like we'll improve a lot under him," Smith said. "He's receptive to what a lot of players say. We're going to go out there and just be great. We've got a unit of players that taking coaching well, we've got coaches that listen to players…I feel like we'll improve a lot because everybody's going to get comfortable with what they're doing and the system is great for the players we have."