Leading the way for the pass rush yet again, Ryan Kerrigan is healthy and ready to see what the front seven can do this season for a rebuilt defensive unit.
Last Tuesday, Ryan Kerrigan beat the heat, handing out Good Humor ice cream to the people of Washington, D.C. In the days that followed, he was on the practice field with the rest of his Washington Redskins teammates preparing to beat the competition this season.
"It wasn't too long," Kerrigan said of the team's first workout last week. "It wasn't so much a test today, it kind of gives the coaches a baseline of where we were, conditioning wise, kind of like a conditioning test, but they did not want to put that label on it so guys wouldn't pull a hammy or anything running it."
For the first time since 2014, Kerrigan is entering this season after putting in a full offseason of work, not having to worry about surgery and the rehab that comes afterwards. The franchise's 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year is ready to build off of a 9.5 sack campaign from a year ago.
With surgery comes rehab, and with rehab comes atrophy. And since a player's offseason is substantially shortened, the amount of time to build that muscle back is very limited. Entering the 2016 training camp, Kerrigan said he feels "a lot better" this time around.
"Even running the condition test I felt better than last year," he told ESPN 980. "It's exciting coming into a season without having surgery. I got to capitalize on the good fortune I've had."
And if the Redskins' outside linebacking corps wants to be effective, they'll need the six-year veteran playing at his Pro-Bowl best with the loss of Junior Galette. One of the more somber pre-training camp notes, Kerrigan believes that loss will be felt far beyond the playing field.
"I think we'll miss the mindset he had," Kerrigan said, "That mentality, that intensity on the field because he eat, sleeps and breaths football. It's really not only a tangible loss from a production standpoint, but also an emotional loss because his mentality and mindset is the kind you want on your football team."
But the reality of Galette's absence has begun to sink in, and with that leaves an open spot. It's an opportunity for a younger player to take charge of the position, someone like Preston Smith.
Now entering his second season, Smith eventually worked his way into the starting lineup as a rookie. The former Mississippi State bulldog registered five sacks in Washington's final three regular season games in 2015, including three against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16.
Check out the top images of Ryan Kerrigan from the 2015 season.
According to Kerrigan, one of the biggest jumps you'll make in your pro football career is from year one to year two. After working with and observing Smith all offseason, the 2012 Pro Bowler is excited to see what Smith does in 2016.
"If Preston's offseason work is any indication of what's to come this season then we are all going to be in for a treat," he said. "The guy's really mature, physically and mentally matured, and I think he's primed for a big year because he has put in the work."
The depth that the Redskins have in the outside linebacker room doesn't just stop there. There's a plethora of players that are more than capable of making the 53-man roster, but like all positions, the spots are limited.
Shiro Davis, Ejiro Ederaine, Willie Jefferson, Lynden Trail and Houston Bates are among the players Kerrigan believes are going create tough decisions for the coaching staff. If there's one player in camp that he can't wait to see in action, it's Su'a Cravens, who will be playing a sort of hybrid role between linebacker and safety.
With the talent pool both in the linebacking corps and also along the defensive line, replacing Galette is something the Redskins can do with who they have in-house, Kerrigan says.
"On the inside we got guys like Chris Baker, who's coming off a career-high in sacks, Ricky [Jean Francois], a guy who's capable of big sack numbers," Kerrigan said. "Trent Murphy, a guy who's now playing in the interior, so those guys are going to be key to our pass rush, too.
"So it's not going to be the outside guys, it'll be a unit effort up front."