While Ryan Kerrigan has been one of the most productive players for the Redskins over the last five years, he's just part of a trio of talented outside linebackers.
Ryan Kerrigan feels that not only is he in a better spot health-wise right now than he was this time a year ago, so too is the Washington Redskins' outside linebackers corps.
Kerrigan has been a mainstay in the starting lineup since joining the team as a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He's also been one of the more consistent – and in many ways underrated – players in the NFL over the last five seasons.
But coming off a career year in 2014 in which he collected 13.5 sacks, Kerrigan dealt with a minor knee issue last offseason that required surgery.
While the injury didn't keep him out of any regular season action, he didn't get off to quite as strong of a start as he wanted to, recording just a half-sack through the first three games of the year.
"It wasn't a pain thing," Kerrigan said this week. "Anytime you approach a surgery there's going to be a lot of atrophy in the muscles around your knee and in [your] leg, I think having lost some of that strength, having lost some of that explosiveness, that hurt me early on in the season. But then as the season went on I started to feel better, feel stronger so to be able to be healthy the rest of this offseason is going to be really big for me."
Indeed, Kerrigan came around as he always does and finished the season with a team-high 9.5 sacks.
But the Purdue product wasn't the only outside linebacker to dominate the latter stages of the regular season, as rookie Preston Smith recorded five sacks in the final three games.
The second-round pick out of Mississippi State would finish the season with eight sacks total, the most of all rookies.
"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."
Check out the top 10 photos of Preston Smith from the 2015 season.
Smith has also been more of a vocal leader this offseason, lending a helping hand to the rookies as they make their transitions from college to the professional ranks.
"It's cool to see that from a second-year guy who came in and had to change some things about him and how he approached football," Kerrigan said. "Who better to lead than someone who saw that one way wasn't working and found a way that was working, so that's been impressive."
Kerrigan added that Smith's growth "has been really impressive to see."
"Not just how he plays on Sundays, but him in the meeting rooms," Kerrigan said. "He's real quick with the defense, he knows the defense inside and out."
Not only is Smith coming into his own, but the explosive Junior Galette returns after suffering a season-ending Achilles tear just days prior to the Redskins' Opening Day matchup with the Miami Dolphins.
"Junior looks awesome," Kerrigan said. "Saw a quote from him a couple weeks back that said he's probably 80 percent and if that's 80 percent, that's really, really damn scary for a lot of opposing offenses. Because his 80 percent right now is far better than a lot of guy's 100 percent. So he's looking really good, looking really strong in the weight room too so that should allow him to be durable throughout the season and he looks as fast as ever."