The Washington Redskins spent much of their offseason trying to improve a defense that has ranked near the bottom of the league the last few years. In order for the team to progress the way they intend to, the Redskins must find a way to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That pressure will likely come from their outside linebacker group.
In 2016, Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan started all 16 games at the Redskins outside linebacker spot. Smith had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2016 after grabbing eight sacks as a rookie, while Kerrigan recorded 11 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Backup Trent Murphy out-performed Smith, despite playing in 100 fewer snaps, as Murphy had nine sacks to Smith’s five last season. In most years following a nine-sack season, an NFL player is relaxed in their starting position heading into training camp. In Murphy’s case, he was never the starter, but clearly had a good chance at more playing time for the Redskins in 2017. That’s exactly what Murphy was expecting before he was hit with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy. Now Murphy will be allowed to attend camp, preseason games, and practices, but will have to stay away from the team’s facilities during the first five weeks. The Redskins have their bye in Week 5.
Without Murphy for the first four games, the Redskins must now go through the process of looking for the replacement of his production. The Redskins’ depth chart opposite of Kerrigan’s side of the ball has Smith, Junior Galette, and rookie Ryan Anderson, to go along with Murphy. Galette has spent the last two seasons on the injured reserve with separate Achilles tears, but was clearly the most talented player in this group before the injuries. Smith has the biggest upside in terms of potential.
Anderson, the Redskins second-round pick out of Alabama, is perhaps the most intriguing player in this group but will need time to adjust to the speed of the NFL, as well as the team’s defensive scheme before having a legitimate chance at starting.
Rounding out Washington’s depth chart are linebackers Houston Bates, Chris Carter, Zach Vigil, and Lynden Trail (6-foot-7, 270 pounds). Bates was primarily used on special teams last season and had roughly 25 snaps on the field otherwise, Trail was a member of the team’s practice squad while Carter and Vigil were both signed in the offseason.
The outside linebacker position is one to keep an eye on in Washington as the Redskins progress through training camp in a few short weeks. The status of the position could change before and during the preseason, depending on how well each player on the Redskins’ depth chart performs.
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