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Kerrigan relishes opportunity to teach defensive line at Senior Bowl

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The past week has been a surreal experience for Ryan Kerrigan.

The last time he was in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl, he was a prospect from Purdue, a highly talented one at that, trying to show NFL teams why they should take him with their first-round pick. 

Twelve years later, things are a bit different for Kerrigan after wrapping up a career that included four Pro Bowls and becoming the Washington Commanders' all-time official sack leader. He is now the Commanders' assistant defensive line coach, and as one of the coaches who was selected to be on the Senior Bowl staff, his new task is to help this year's group of prospects stand out. 

"I'm just trying to facilitate and make sure they have a good, productive week," Kerrigan told Commanders' analyst Logan Paulsen. 

The past week has not been a completely new experience for Kerrigan. He has been working with defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina to get the most out of a defensive line that includes Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat and Chase Young. It was a successful first season as a coach, too; on top of Allen and Payne both being selected to the Pro Bowl, Payne tied a franchise record for a defensive tackle with 11.5 sacks, and Sweat had his second-best season as a pass-rusher.

But there is a small wrinkle to the Senior Bowl's coaching staff selection this year. The college all-star game implemented a "coach up" approach, which allows assistants like Kerrigan to take on roles above their current positions. So, Kerrigan is leading the entire defensive line by himself on the national team.

"You get to be the lead dog," Kerrigan said. "You gotta be able to direct everything and make sure everyone's in the right spot, both in the meeting room and on the field. It's cool. It's good experience."

Kerrigan knows what his group of players -- which includes Wisconsin's Keeanu Benton and Georgia Tach's Keion White -- is going through. Their heads are swimming with learning a new defense, building chemistry with their teammates and getting up early for practice.

Kerrigan's job as a coach is to make sure his players are ready for the game on Saturday, but he wants to focus more on making sure they are prepared from an individual standpoint.

"I specifically want to see them move, see their different movements and how they rush the passer, how they attack blockers in the running game," Kerrigan said. "And also, how they compete, how they run to the ball. It was a good first day. I'm looking forward to seeing what they got tomorrow."

As one of four Commanders coaches on the Senior Bowl staff -- that is tied for the most coaches from one team -- Kerrigan is going to get a good look at which of the 12 defensive linemen he is working with could be good additions to Washington's defensive front.

Northwestern's Adetomiwa Adebawore, for example, has experience at multiple spots on the defensive line and knows how to be disruptive with his length and explosiveness. On top of the 11.5 sacks he racked up in his career, he also deflected six passes and four forced fumbles.

Another player, Karl Brooks from Bowling Green, also has position versatility and was highly productive during his five seasons with the Falcons. He is coming off a performance in 2022 highlighted by 10 sacks and four pass breakups.

All these players have plenty of promise and are eager to make a name for themselves in the NFL. Luckily, they have a coach like Kerrigan, who has already made that journey, to guide them on that path.

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