Entering Second Year, Ryan Kerrigan Finds Offseason Beneficial
ASHBURN – There weren’t very many times Ryan Kerrigan looked completely baffled during his rookie season with the Washington Redskins, but an untrained eye can miss quite a bit.
“I look back at the film from last year and I’m just standing there, shaking my head like, ‘What was I doing?’” Kerrigan said. “This year, I know what I’m supposed to be doing and I know how I’m supposed to be doing it. I just feel so much more comfortable in what I’m able to do and how I’m able to cover.”
Kerrigan had to learn to adjust quickly during his rookie season. A defensive end at Purdue, the Redskins moved Kerrigan to outside linebacker, standing him up for the first time in his life in its 3-4 defensive scheme.
No longer would Kerrigan simply be a pass rusher. He’d routinely be required to drop into coverage – a responsibility that occasionally baffled him.
After spending the offseason dedicated to improving his familiarity in coverage, he’ll get a workout on Sunday against the pass-heavy New Orleans offense and quarterback Drew Brees – another former Purdue standout.
The Saints averaged 334.1 passing yards a game last season, good for first in the league. Behind an offensive line that featured three Pro Bowlers, Brees was sacked 24 times.
“He gets the ball out of his hands pretty fast,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “He has a pretty good offensive line that protects him well. They have skill players that get open. The scheme is good for him. When you combine all those things, you know, it makes it easy for him to be successful.”
The Redskins considered starting Lorenzo Alexander on the left side early in the season in case Kerrigan was too overwhelmed by the game.
“You got to remember Ryan, too, now – he didn’t have any offseason,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “He walked in [after the owners’ lockout], he had two weeks of training camp and he got hurt, so he missed the first couple weeks. Then he played in a couple [preseason] games and we lined up and played.”
Kerrigan, though, showed no issues as the year progressed, and he finished his rookie year with 63 tackles, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. He also didn’t miss a play all season – a surprising feat for a rookie.
He should have an opportunity to show his growth Sunday. He’ll likely see a lot of Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, the 6-foot-7, 265-pound Pro Bowler who caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
New England tight end Rob Gronkowski caught six passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns last year against the Redskins. Though not all of Gronkowski’s production was on Kerrigan, it taught him the importance of being more physical at the line of scrimmage.
“I think he’s got really good coverage skills for a big guy,” Haslett said. “Really smart. Besides all the other stuff, his motors, his pass-rush ability – he’s really strong. I think he feels much more comfortable this year doing those things after having a year under his belt. I know he does, and I know it’s the same up front.”
“This is definitely a big challenge,” Kerrigan said. “When you’ve got a back out of the backfield like Darren Sproles, it’s going to be a challenge, and then their receiving corps – they throw it all over the yard. I’ve got to be tight in my coverage this week and really hone in on my skills.”