Now that linebacker Junior Galette is once again injured, the Redskins will rely on Preston Smith, who has changed his eating and practice habits to be more explosive on the field.
"We have to rebound," head coach Jay Gruden said on Wednesday, addressing the loss of linebacker Junior Galette for the impending year.
After tearing an Achilles for the second consecutive season, Galette will likely miss the upcoming 2016 season, one that many figured would give second-year linebacker Preston Smith a chance to develop more of his skills without needing to be leaned on heavily in the pass rush. Now, those plans have changed.
The Washington Redskins conducted their first day of training camp walkthrough practices Thursday, July 28, 2016, at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.
"That was really unfortunate, man," Smith said of Galette's injury, which he found out through a text message. "I was really looking forward to playing with Junior and creating a great pass rush this year with a lot of weapons me, him and Ryan [Kerrigan], a lot of guys, Chris Baker, Ricky Jean [Francois], having the arsenal of a lot of guys who can really get after the quarterback."
Smith figures to start opposite linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (that was the case during the first walkthroughs of training camp on Thursday), much like he did during the end of last season, and the Redskins believe that the end of his rookie campaign is a harbinger for a standout sophomore season.
He finished his rookie year with eight sacks, three of which came against the Eagles in Week 16, and credits that end of year production to a mentality change.
"I'd say the month of December is when it started to click a lot more, that's when things got started, I got confident," Smith said. "I started to play my game, not having as much pressure built up on myself. I'm just hard on myself. I just got high expectations, so when you have high expectations you start to stretch yourself out so just start to relax and get out there and just play football."
There was a physical transformation that happened as well. Smith realized he needed to create more disciplined routines for himself so he could practice at a high level consistently and could enter games feeling confident from his previous week's work.
That necessitated better eating habits, instruction provided by veteran Jason Hatcher last year, which primarily consisted of cutting down "sweets," a guilty pleasure that he's had his entire life.
"I just cut out a lot of sweets in general -- candy bars and stuff like that, things high in sugar," Smith said. "It was kind of hard at times trying to stop and cut it down but I realized this is my job and I gotta be more disciplined so the team can do great things on the field.
"Now [I'm eating] a lot more foods that create a lot more energy and give me a lot of energy boosts in practice."
Gruden noticed Smith's improved regimen this offseason in the weight room based on the advances in his strength and speed. Smith, who knocked off three pounds and is down to 268, worked out with Galette over the summer, often calling him to meet when he knew Galette would be in town.
"I think he's still just tapping his skill set," Gruden said. "You know, he's got a ton of ability and it's our job to get more out of him. He's bigger, he's stronger, he's faster this year. I think he's going to be a heck of a pass-rusher for us for a long time. You know, out here is going to be very important for him getting better."
Smith's focus will now be about maintenance – keeping up the good habits he established over the last several months while taking on a bigger role within the defense.
"I just worry about what I can control and that's going out and playing hard," Smith said. "It's unfortunate losing Junior, so I gotta just continue the mindset of work hard and do what I can do to help the team.
"We can still get it done," he added. "We've been getting it done. But we just gotta improve our game and get more consistent and disruptive this year."