It’s easy to get bogged down in the doom and gloom of an offseason, when your team is on the sidelines and other teams are still playing football. In an effort to be part of a slightly positive offseason movement, an offseason that I think will bring the Redskins back to a level of true decency, I present my Kudo Awards.
Over the next week or two, I’ll be blogging about Redskins that are worthy of a pat on the back for their play in 2011. Sure the Redskins finished a dismal 5-11, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some really good efforts and performances put in. Up first – Ryan Kerrigan.
I admit that it’s not a really big stretch to go with Kerrigan first, but when you look at the body of work – it’s hard not to. Was he as noticeable down the stretch as he was early on in the season? Maybe not, but the linebacker had an amazing rookie campaign nonetheless.
When he was drafted, the ‘knock’ on the pick was that the Redskins were drafting an ‘out of position’ linebacker by selecting Kerrigan, who played defensive end in a 4-3 scheme at Purdue. There was perhaps some merit to the logic given that there were no offseason workouts and a very shortened window for the 2010 draft selections to learn what they needed to, but that would still only apply to one year of what would hopefully be a much longer NFL career.
In Kerrigan’s case, it didn’t matter. He walked right into a starting role at linebacker regardless of never having played there, and didn’t even suit up for the final preseason game. The Redskins were that sure of his ability to fill the role. And the season bore out that they were completely justified in putting that kind of trust and pressure on the young man.
I was a little surprised when the NFL announced the finalists for the NFL Rookie of the Year, and Kerrigan wasn’t on the list of five. He waned slightly down the stretch, but when all is tallied up for 2011, Kerrigan had 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, an interception, and a touchdown – a darn good set of rookie numbers. The five finalists were as follows: Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina Panthers; Von Miller, linebacker, Denver Broncos; Aldon Smith, linebacker, San Francisco 49ers; Andy Dalton, quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals; and Patrick Peterson, cornerback/punt returner, Arizona Cardinals. I think Kerrigan was easily as good as Peterson or better, but having said that, every rookie on that list had terrific seasons.
Kerrigan doesn’t have to be rookie of the year, or even defensive rookie of the year, to have had a phenomenal season. People tend to concentrate on the sack and forced fumbles, because they are tangible statistics that can be pointed to, but the young man from Muncie, Indiana did some things this year that might not be readily apparent looking at a stat sheet. Little is made of the linebacker’s play against the run in 2011, but down the stretch, he improved in leaps and bounds. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that he’s still learning a new position, a new system, and adapting to the pro game, when Kerrigan is playing at such a high level already.
Not only did his play against the run improve as the season went along, but so did his ability to drop back in coverage. It’ still an element of his game that needs improvement, but he definitely got better in the last quarter of the season. He has the physical tools to drop back with virtually anybody, so as he becomes more comfortable in Jim Haslett’s system, and thinks a little bit less, and reacts a little bit more, his coverage skills will improve even more.
It’s hard to find many negatives in Kerrigan’s rookie season, other than the fact that he started with such a bang, that the second half of the season was slightly less impactful. Some of that can be attributed to the opposition recognizing his talent and game-planning around him more and more. With Brian Orakpo on the other side though, teams struggle to account for both players, and lessening the impact for one, often leads to big plays from the other. Together the two made a very good outside linebacking tandem in 2011, and with youth on both of their sides, there’s every reason to believe that even bigger things are to come. Lest not we forget that Kerrigan didn’t even really get much of an offseason thanks to the lockout. This year he gets a full slate of OTA’s and a variety of other workouts and sessions to hunker down with Haz and his teammates to learn every nuance of the defensive system.
I expect huge things from Ryan Kerrigan in 2012; and my fist Kudo for 2011 goes to him for living up to expectations, and having a great inaugural campaign.
Follow me on Twitter @TheHogsdotNet and you can follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanKerrigan91