Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan can look back and learn from his long afternoon last December against massive New England tight end Rob Gronkowski as he prepares to play another giant, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, on Sunday.
Gronkowski is 6-feet-6, 265 pounds; Graham weighs the same and is an inch taller. They were the only tight ends with double-digit touchdown receptions or 1,000 receiving yards last season.
Their size and athleticism creates nightmare matchups for defense, but Kerrigan (6-4, 260) is determined to improve on last year's game against Gronkowski, in which the Patriots star had a season-high 160-receiving yards and two touchdowns on six receptions.
"You want to be physical at the line because he is a taller guy," Kerrigan said of Graham. "You don't want to let him off the line because once he does, he gets out in the open, and when the ball is up in the air, nine times out of 10 he's going to come down with it."
The Saints of course, try to counter any physicality against Graham by where they position him on the field.
"He's usually inside but they split him out a lot because, a receiving threat like that with his height, you want him down the middle of the field exposing matchups," Kerrigan said. "He's probably faster than a lot of linebackers, bigger than a lot of DBs, definitely a guy that they try to exploit."
Overall, Kerrigan is more confident about his coverage ability this season because of his familiarity with his responsibilities. Last year was his first season transitioning from defensive end, so coverage concepts took some getting used to.
"You just look on film from last year to this year, and last year I'm just shaking my head, like, 'What was I doing,'" Kerrigan said. "I know this year what I'm supposed to do and how I'm supposed to be doing it. I feel so much more comfortable."
New direction for Cundiff
Billy Cundiff's recent history of reliably kicking touchbacks won't necessarily continue in Washington. Directional kickoffs are still very much in play for the Redskins and special teams coach Danny Smith after they waived kicker Graham Gano before the fourth preseason game.
"I think the way that Coach Smith works, maybe not necessarily this game, but I think for the season he wants to do directional kicking," Cundiff said Thursday. "In Baltimore the way we did it was just try to get touchbacks first, and then second, if there's wind, kind of play the wind and do it that way."
Directional kicking takes advantage of the Redskins' superb coverage unit. They allowed an only 20.8 yards per kickoff return last season, the second-best mark in the NFL.
"I think it's exciting playing here because the way the special teams mentality is the guys, especially on kickoff cover, they want to cover kicks," Cundiff said. "I've been told by a lot of guys that touchbacks are great, but at the same time they want to see if they can get a tackle inside the 20. Last year they had 18, whereas last year in Baltimore we had three. So it's a much different situation here."
• Kory Lichtensteiger will play against the Saints on Sunday barring a setback in his surgically-repaired left knee, coach Mike Shanahan said after Thursday's practice.
• The Redskins could employ a rotation at left guard, depending on the quality of Lichtensteiger's play and fitness early in the game.
• Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (chest) and cornerback Josh Wilson (hip) fully participated in practice and are expected to play.
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