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Preston Smith's hands, long arms provide hope as pass-rusher

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Journey to the draft: Preston Smith

Watch some of the top plays by former Mississippi State linebacker Preston Smith.

ASHBURN, Va. -- The speed off the edge didn’t wow anyone; it’s not Preston Smith's strength. So when he wants to pressure the passer, he turns to the advantages he does have: long arms, quick hands and power.

Smith, the Washington Redskins' second-round draft pick this year, will be expected to provide immediate help to the pass rush, whether with sack totals or just overall pressure. He runs fast for a big man (270 pounds), but his time of 4.74 seconds in the 40-yard dash was not considered fast for an outside linebacker.

However, if 40-yard dash times were the only pre-requisite for pass-rush success, then J.J. Watt (4.81 seconds) and Terrell Suggs (4.84 seconds) would not have done a whole lot. The key is to have other qualities, and that’s what the Redskins hope Smith possesses.

As fellow outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said, what matters to pass-rushers is this: “Taking the proper angle to the quarterback and learning how to use your hands and your hips well. If you can do that, you don’t have to have the fastest 40 time or the fastest takeoff. You just have to be a good technical pass-rusher.”

It’s what the Redskins liked about Trent Murphy before selecting him last year. Smith has long arms and, in college, showed quick hands -- especially when working as an inside pass-rusher over the center.

“I have long arms and big hands and it allows me to have a firm punch and create separation from me and the tackles,” Smith said. “It helps my pass rush by adding another element to my game.”

The Redskins plan to use Smith all over, along the line perhaps in some nickel packages, so having skills other than just speed will come in handy.

“A 40 time doesn’t relate to the pass rush,” Smith said. “It’s a different thing when you line up and then run as fast as you can for a certain distance. It’s like you’re running to nothing. When you rush the passer, it’s like you have a different mindset. You move a whole lot quicker than you do for a 40.”

Smith said he worked a lot on his hands in college, working them in tight spaces to replicate life as an inside rusher. His most effective rushes often came when lined up as a nose tackle in the nickel package. In those situations, he used moves that required strong, quick hands.

“It’s how you work under pressure and rushing inside,” Smith said. “It’s not like on the edge, where you have some space before you can work a move. It happens now. So rushing from the inside kind of kept me on my toes, how to use my hand so quick against those interior guys who are way stronger than tackles. Going against them helped my hand speed to get the strong guys off me.”

In college, Smith often couldn’t rush with the get-off he wanted. The elite pass-rushers in this draft often would be a full step ahead of their teammates after the snap. Smith, at most, would be a half-yard. But there were times he seemed more worried about aspects other than the rush, sometimes from facing too much zone-read action. He still recorded 15 tackles for a loss and nine sacks.

“I didn’t have a chance to show my speed,” Smith said. “You didn’t get to play with speed the way you wanted. You have to play slow. “People feel I’m not a good edge rusher, and I feel that hurt me. I can rush the edge and I can be effective on the edge.”