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Preston Smith, Other Outside Linebackers Ready For Camp Battles


With Junior Galette suffering an Achilles injury, Richmond will provide the first glimpse at how Preston Smith and the rest of the young outside linebackers will perform in his absence.

Next man up.

It is a motto that is frequently used in sports, but just days before the Washington Redskins open up 2016 training camp at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va., the team is in a position to have someone step up in place of outside linebacker Junior Galette, who suffered an Achilles injury this week according to head coach Jay Gruden.

It marks the second time in as many years that Galette has dealt with an Achilles tear.

While it was a difficult blow for the Redskins, particularly the timing of the injury occurring just days before camp's start, Washington still has a young outside linebackers corps eager to make an impact alongside Ryan Kerrigan.

That starts with 2015 second-round pick Preston Smith, who led all NFL rookies in sacks last season with eight.

Smith worked with the first-team defense throughout offseason workouts and showed clearly improvement.

"The most impressive thing with him is in the weight room," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "That's what I wanted to see him grow and develop. He's stronger, he's bigger and looks a little quicker. That's awesome. He is already a smart guy, knows the defense. Now he has the added strength and conditioning."

Gruden is confident Smith's "going to be a force" this year.

"He had [eight sacks] for us last year and he is just getting better and better," Gruden said. "The more comfortable he gets with the terminology and the scheme – when to long stick, when to run the hoop, whatever it is – the more violent he can play."

Part of Smith's uptick in performance was his approach to the game. The 6-foot-5, 268 pounder had all of the physical tools to be a Day 1 contributor, but learning how to be a professional took him some time.

"Yeah, things kind of changed for Preston early in the season last year," Kerrigan said. "I think he kind of realized that he had to change how he practiced, changed how he ate, changed how he approached life away from football if he wanted to be a dominant player and as a result you saw him down the stretch making a lot of plays for us and looks really good this offseason so far. Still a big body but can move really well, is good in space and he's going to be a great one for us."

Outside of Smith, the Redskins also return Houston Bates and 2015 practice squad member Lynden Trail along with offseason additions Shiro Davis, Ejiro Ederaine, Willie Jefferson and Mike Wakefield.

Bates started his Redskins career as a rookie minicamp tryout player before a string of impressive preseason performances earned him an active roster spot for the regular season opener against the Miami Dolphins.

While the Louisiana Tech product would spend the rest of the first half of the season on the practice squad, he would be bumped back up to the active roster in November.

Trail, meanwhile, is the tallest player on the defensive side of the football for the Redskins, checking in at 6-foot-7.

The 25-year-old split his college career between Norfolk State and Florida before originally entering the NFL as a college free agent last year.

While he recorded two different stints on the practice squad last year, Trail understands there's an opening for a bigger role now.

Jefferson joined the Redskins in January after spending the last two seasons north of the border in the CFL.

While the CFL has a different set of rules and an expanded field, Jefferson – who played for the Houston Texans in 2013 – said the differences with the NFL are actually "very small" as he worked his way back into NFL play this offseason.

"Just learning the plays," Jefferson said of what he needs to do to adjust. "Everything's a little faster, coming from a defense I've learned from two years in the CFL and then learning a new defense here."

Davis, Ederaine and Wakefield, meanwhile, joined Washington's roster as rookie college free agents.

Davis played for the University of Texas from 2012-15, recording 67 tackles with six sacks while Ederaine collected 229 tackles and 21 sacks while at Fresno State.

Wakefield, who joined the Redskins on May 16 – played collegiately at Florida International where he recorded 118 tackles with 17.5 sacks and eight fumbles forced.

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