As part of our Redskins 2020 Offseason Update presented by Bud Light Seltzer, we're focusing on defensive end Ryan Kerrigan in our Player Spotlight feature brought to you by our friends at Acronis.
Ryan Kerrigan has been a dominant force for the Redskins' defense ever since he was drafted No. 16 overall in the 2011 Draft, but lately he has been faced with the reality that his role is undoubtedly going to change.
"That's kind of the way the NFL works," Kerrigan told reporters June 11. "You play a long time and you're fortunate in that regard but...when you're not having the success you want as a team, fans and people look for new reasons to get excited."
Kerrigan's 10th season was already going to be different with Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio transitioning the defense to a 4-3 front. Then they drafted Chase Young in April, adding one more player to a stacked defensive line. But no matter how the rotation works or what defense the Redskins run, he intends to be part of their plans this upcoming season.
"I'm excited to get to work in a 4-3 for the first time in my NFL career," he said. "I've been a 3-4 guy my whole career and to have the chance to play in a system like this is really exciting. Just going through the Zoom meetings these past couple of months and getting to learn what they expect from us on the edge, it's exciting."
Kerrigan doesn't blame the Redskins for taking Young with the No. 2 overall pick. In fact, he would have done the same thing, and he thinks fans have good reason to be excited about him. Young joined the roster with an exemplary reputation, and based on the limited interaction Kerrigan has had with him, he has lived up to it.
"Chase has been really impressive," he said. "He seems to pick up the defense pretty well so far. That's what I'm always usually impressed with a lot of guys when they come in the league is how quickly they can pick things up mentally. You know the physical talent is there, but can they pick things up mentally? I think Chase has shown that so far."
Bringing in a player like Young on top of restructuring the defensive front means finding a conducive rotation will be a bit tricky. The Redskins have invested heavily in their defensive line with Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne also on the roster, but it's almost impossible to have five first-round picks on the field together.
"You're getting right to the part that is not so comfortable," Del Rio said. "So that's part of it...having guys understand, 'Hey, you're not going to play all the time,' or, 'You're not the starter.'"
From the time they came to Washington, Del Rio and Rivera's strategy has been to let each player compete and let the results dictate the rotation. That's how Kerrigan foresees the issue working out as well.
"Rotations and what not are kind of largely dictated by what's going on in the game and different things like that," he said. I'm hoping to make as many plays as possible. I think this defense will give us that opportunity up front."
One thing Del Rio has said with certainty is that players like Kerrigan, who he referred to as a "premier edge rusher," will be playing in coverage less and rushing quarterbacks more often. As an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense for the entirety of his professional career, Kerrigan had to perform both of those responsibilities, although he has had more success as a pass rusher with 90-career sacks.
Now that he's a defensive end, Kerrigan has an even better chance of getting the 1.5 sacks he needs to become the franchise's sack leader.
"I'm excited," he said. "They said they want us going forward and doing what we do best so that's what we're excited about doing."
Kerrigan is confident in his abilities, but he admitted that the 2019 season wasn't his best. He had career lows in tackles (25) and sacks (5.5), and he was ultimately placed on Injured Reserve after 12 games, snapping his streak of 139 consecutive starts. Fortunately, most of Kerrigan's issue were minor.
"Angles to the quarterback and maybe not changing up my game plan mid-game if something wasn't working," he said. "Just things like that that ultimately could have helped me be more productive that I couldn't do. I've seen them on film now and I know what to do to correct it, so I've just got to do it now."
Regardless of where everyone plays, Kerrigan said Del Rio wants the defense to play fast, physical and in the opponent's backfield. That's how he played at Purdue, where he had 32.5 sacks and 56 tackles for a loss in three seasons.
Kerrigan admits the defensive line has talent, at least on paper. But that will only get them so far, he said, and the only real way to judge how successful they can be is their consistency. That has to be developed through training camp or whenever the players are allowed to get together again.
Once everyone's roles are sorted out, Kerrigan hopes to see "a lot of production on the edge."
"We've got a chance to be pretty effective and pretty productive...but again like I said, with our entire defense, we're all good on paper right now. We've got to go out there and prove it."