LANDOVER, Md. - The reviews have come in from the Washington Redskins’ 16-7 preseason victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the scores have been mostly positive. Of course, the final scoreboard of any preseason game is far less meaningful than the on-field execution the team displays, particularly the first-teamers. If anything can be drawn from Friday’s game, it’s that the Redskins will field a considerably younger, faster and more dynamic squad in 2011.
The flip side: with a considerable amount of youngsters now on the roster, the team will have to count on a number of them growing up in a hurry. Their top two draft picks in particular, Ryan Kerrigan and Jarvis Jenkins, will be asked to play major roles early on in their careers, despite the fact that they are being asked to learn completely new positions and schemes from what they were accustomed to in college.
If the last two weeks of post-lockout condensed training camps were cram sessions for these two, then Friday’s game was the first practice test. This game showed that Kerrigan and Jenkins still have a bit of learning to do, but overall was still an excellent first showing.
Kerrigan, who is making the transition from playing defensive end in a 4-3 front to an outside linebacker in a 3-4, learned firsthand Friday just what it means to be standing up near the line of scrimmage rather than in a three-point stance at the line.
"I think I still got a lot to work on." Kerrigan told me after the game. "[I’ve] still got a lot to get comfortable with in terms of the 3-4 linebacker position, but this is a good starting point and I got a lot to learn from it."
The Purdue standout had trouble in the early going, particularly in the run game. He was caught several times getting sucked up to the inside of the play, which allowed for wider lanes for ballcarriers to run past on the outside. The primary example of this was on a play where Kerrigan was unable to contain, over-pursuing the back and finding himself too far inside on an 11-yard Mewelde Moore run to the outside.
But as the game went along, it was obvious Kerrigan was beginning to make adjustments.
"I think just as the game went on I got a little more comfortable [and] got more adjusted to the speed of the game," he said. "I kind of knew their tendencies and what they were going to do, and just as the game progressed I got a little more comfortable."
No play exemplified that more than when Kerrigan came up big on third-and-one situation in the second quarter. He saw fullback Jamie McCoy motion to his side and read that it was a run play coming his way. Kerrigan got to the inside of the man across from him, tight end David Johnson, forced his way into the backfield and tackled Moore, ending the drive.
"It’s just one of those things as the game goes along," Kerrigan said of the play. "You pick up on tendencies and what other teams are doing, and [the tackle for loss] was an example of that."
The biggest question mark about Kerrigan’s transition, however, is whether or not he will be able to be competent in space as it relates to his coverage responsibilities. The coaching staff made sure to limit Kerrigan’s opportunities in pass coverage, so he was never truly tested on Friday night.
"I wasn’t in coverage too much tonight," Kerrigan noted. "But the times I was I felt pretty good and I felt like I did [well] on my assignments. "
As for Jenkins, the team's second-round pick, his performance gave a glimpse of why the team believed he could play defensive end in this scheme. The six-foot-three, 310 pounder showed he has the length and size needed to be able to penetrate the line of scrimmage as a three-technique defensive end.
The Clemson product penetrated the line numerous times Friday night, even if he didn't always display the best technique. Jenkins showed he has a quick step, but he often stayed too high, with his knees barely bent. That made it much easier for opposing lineman to push him out of the play entirely, creating lanes for the ball carriers on run plays or providing one less rusher for the quarterbacks to deal with on passing downs. Once Jenkins can consistently stay low, he'll have a chance to be a factor on nearly every play.
That's not to say he didn't have an impact Friday. Jenkins was able to get in the backfield on several occasions, both on runs and when rushing the quarterback. On one run in particular, he was able to penetrate quickly behind the line, and forced the running back to the inside, where Brian Orakpo wrapped up the ball carrier for a one-yard loss. On another, he was able to get inside and get a hit on the quarterback, something Redskins rarely saw from their defensive lineman in 2010.
"I could have [done] better." Jenkins admitted to me after the game. "I think I contributed. I got my technique down right, [but] I got to get better next week."
So with their first preseason games in the books, what can we say about the Redskins top two draftees? It's probably too early to make projections about what kind of seasons these two will have. That being said, the good news for the Redskins is that they clearly have two young players who are not only athletically gifted enough to play their new positions, but they also have ones who are (unlike last year) willing to take on the challenges that come along with learning them while also learning the professional game.
If they wind up being successful in their rookie seasons, the Redskins defense as a whole could be well on it's way to being one of the better unit's in the league.
"Most definitely [it can] be a good defense." Jenkins said. "If everybody does their job and contribute like they're supposed to, we could be a very good defense."