- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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I promised you more from the time I spent at Washington Redskins training camp earlier this week, and I keep my promises. As long as Camp Confidential was, there were things I learned from watching and interviewing people that weren't addressed in there. So over the coming days, I plan to offer a few more posts based on my own reporting from Redskins camp, on a variety of topics. I hope you enjoy.
ASHBURN, Va. -- There was nothing wrong with Ryan Kerrigan's first NFL season. The Redskins' first-round draft pick in 2011, Kerrigan finished his rookie year with 7.5 sacks, four tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and an interception. The young man is a playmaker, and the Redskins knew that, which is why they drafted him. Though he'd been a 4-3 end in college and was playing 3-4 outside linebacker for them, they figured he could be a disruptive force in backfields right away, and he was.
But the Redskins didn't draft Kerrigan just for what he already was. They also like what he can become. He knows the raw ability he brought with him from college won't be enough for a long, productive NFL career -- that there are things about his games that still need to improve. And so at this year's Redskins training camp he's thinking more about what he didn't do last year than what he did.
"It's just improving on what I know," Kerrigan said after Tuesday's practice. "Last year, it was just about learning and getting adjusted to the new position. But I know what's expected of me now. I know my assignments this year, and I've just got to work on improving it. That's what's exciting to me about this year. I feel more comfortable with the defense. I'm more sure of myself. I'm playing faster because I know what to do. And I think that's going to translate into big things for this defense this year."
The Redskins' 3-4 defense is set up to make Kerrigan a star. It relies on its outside linebackers -- Kerrigan and 2009 first-round pick Brian Orakpo -- to pressure and sack the quarterback. For that reason, Kerrigan's 7.5 sacks and Orakpo's 2011 total of nine are numbers that need to be improved. They both played well, but this is a year in which they need to take a step into the upper echelon of NFL pass-rushers.
"This defense is predicated on getting to the quarterback, so there definitely is a lot on Brian's and my shoulders this year," Kerrigan said. "But we like it that way, and we feel we can live up to that and be a focal point of this team and this defense."
The Redskins' defensive front seven looks like a strength. They have a good, deep rotation of defensive linemen up front and are very strong at inside linebacker with London Fletcher and Perry Riley. But the key is definitely the pressure generated by Kerrigan and Orakpo on the outside. With a secondary full of question marks, the Redskins will need to force quarterbacks to throw the ball before they're ready. A dominant pass rush might be able to cover some of the weaknesses at cornerback and safety. Kerrigan and Orakpo have enough talent to make you think they're up to the task. Orakpo has said he's working on new pass-rush moves. Kerrigan says he's more comfortable this year. It's all set up for them to succeed. If they do, then the Redskins have a chance to do the same.