The blueprint for Ryan Kerrigan as a Washington Redskins rookie was Brian Orakpo. Like Kerrigan, Orakpo made the switch from defensive end to linebacker and was there to offer advice in the transition.
“Ryan, I think he’ll be fine. He’s going into the same defense for the second year,” Orakpo said. “He’s already learning a lot, already experienced a lot throughout the last season. And he’s going into the same system to get better.”
All Kerrigan has to do is build on a strong foundation.
“I just want to be more consistent. I think last year I did some good things, but I also had some games where I kind of didn’t really do much at all,” Kerrigan said. “I want to be more consistent, play each game at a high level and be a productive member of the team.”
Kerrigan was a productive starter in his rookie year with 63 tackles and 71/2 sacks. Middle linebacker London Fletcher went to the Pro Bowl, but Kerrigan showed flashes of the kind of player he can become.
Those flashes aren’t enough. Kerrigan, whose performance tailed off late in the season, wants to be a factor every game. That process starts now.
“I just got to be detailed at practice and really, really hone in on my skills because I know what I need to do,” Kerrigan said. “Now it’s just a matter of improving on it and doing it.”
Continuity is on Kerrigan’s side. Jim Haslett’s 3-4 defense remains intact, and the starting linebacking corps of Kerrigan, Orakpo, Fletcher and Perry Riley already has chemistry. The starting defensive line of Adam Carriker, Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen is back, too.
“I think he’ll just be able to do the stuff better because he understands what his role is, what his responsibility is,” Fletcher said. “He’s not learning a new position this year. He went from a hand-in-the-dirt rush defensive end in college to a stand-up outside linebacker. He’s going to be so much better this year.”
As Kerrigan settles in with a full training camp to prepare for his second season, there’s a concern even if his development progresses unabated: As Kerrigan said, “I’m not a rookie anymore,” and his game is no longer a secret.
Opposing offenses will start keying on Kerrigan, and he’ll have to adjust.
“You got to. It’s kind of tough. You’ve got to continue to play your game, but at the same time, you’ve got to learn different things, do different things to be effective because, obviously, when you’re a new guy you don’t have that much film on you,” Orakpo said. “Then when you do have film on you, you’re doing good, that’s when teams start to key on you and start to know how you play. Something he has to adjust to for Year 2 to make those big plays happen.”
Orakpo’s numbers didn’t take a big leap in his second season, but for Kerrigan, getting to the quarterback more could be an area of emphasis. But becoming more consistent is about “a little bit of everything.”
“For the most part, Ryan does a great job,” Fletcher said. “I’ll help him out a little bit, just as much as possible. Maybe just give him a little tip here or there, but he’s a bright kid and he works hard.”