For most of the Washington Redskins, tonight’s preseason game against the perennial AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts isn’t much of an occasion.
But for first-round draft pick Ryan Kerrigan, the contest inside Lucas Oil Stadium will be very much a homecoming. The 22-year-old Purdue product grew up just an hour from Indianapolis in Muncie, Ind. and used to attend Colts games annually with his grandfather.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Kerrigan said. “What are the odds that my first NFL road game would be in Indianapolis?”
Kerrigan, who set the Bowl Subdivision career record for forced fumbles as a defensive end for the Boilermakers, is in the midst of a crash course in learning how to be an outside linebacker. That’s because the four and a half month NFL lockout wiped out the meetings, organized team activities and minicamps in which he would have been able to soak up knowledge from his coaches and be able to watch tape to see what he was doing wrong and what he was doing right.
Instead, Kerrigan had eight informal workouts with his teammates in April, May and June. And when training camp began on July 29, Kerrigan suffered a bone bruise in his right knee during the first practice, an injury that kept him out the next nine days.
“It sucked, to be quite honest, but injuries are part of football,” said Kerrigan, sporting a brace on his tender knee. “I’m lucky it wasn’t anything more than a bruise.”
While Kerrigan was sidelined, linebackers coach Lou Spanos worked with him one-on-one during special teams sessions. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, a former NFL linebacker, put in extra effort with him, too.
“It’s like night and day from (the player-run workouts) after being coached up by coach Haslett and coach Spanos,” Kerrigan said. “It’s been especially helpful for me in learning what I have to do in certain (pass) coverages. When I was a defensive end, my job was pretty simple: take the C gap or the D gap. Now I have to worry about so many things. It’s been tough, for sure. It’s a process. It’s not going to all happen in one week or even in one training camp.”
And yet even though Kerrigan had been on the field for just four practices, he recorded three tackles, one for a loss, along with a hurry as the Redskins opened preseason by beating the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers last Friday.
“Ryan’s a work in progress,” Haslett said. “He’ll get better every day he’s out there. Everything’s new for him because he’s standing up so the coverage aspect of it, he’s got to keep working on. He’s a powerful guy that can make a lot of plays just because of his body structure and the way he plays. He plays hard.”
Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, whose similar transition from All-American defensive end to NFL outside linebacker wasn’t hamstrung by the lockout or a knee injury as Kerrigan’s has been, likes his protégé’s progress.
“(Ryan) played really good (against the Steelers),” Orakpo said. “He made a huge stop on a third down. He got some good pressure. He’s smart. He picks up things really fast. He’s coming along really well.”
Washington’s most recent first-rounders: Trent Williams (2010), Orakpo (2009) and LaRon Landry (2007) were immediate starters. However, Haslett said “I wouldn’t be surprised” if Kerrigan isn’t in the lineup when the Redskins open the season on Sept. 11 against the New York Giants.
“I know I’ve got a long ways to go,” said Kerrigan, who started all but one game during his final three seasons at Purdue. “I want to do what helps the team out. Whether that’s starting, playing special teams or taking a secondary role, I’ll try to get better at it every day.”
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.