- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2015

Mere minutes after he got the news Friday night, Preston Smith couldn’t remember which member of the Washington Redskins front office or coaching staff called to deliver it. 

“My mind went blank,” he said with a laugh. “As soon as they said, ‘This is with the Redskins,’ I just got excited. Everything before and after that I kind of forgot, just that quick.”

The Redskins were equally excited to nab Smith. After strengthening their offensive line Thursday night, the Redskins bolstered their pass rush in the second round by selecting the outside linebacker from Mississippi State with the 38th overall pick.

Smith played defensive end in college but profiles as an outside linebacker in Washington’s 3-4 scheme. He could start opposite Ryan Kerrigan or share time with the team’s second-round pick last year, outside linebacker Trent Murphy.

Preston has great versatility,” coach Jay Gruden said. “He’s lined up all over the defensive front. He’s been a nose guard, he’s been a five-technique, he’s stood up, he can drop in coverage. You watch him at his pro day and the combine, you see the athleticism that he has. We feel like he’s still a young kid growing and there’s still a lot we can build upon with his body frame the way it is.”

Smith is listed at 6 feet 5 and 271 pounds. He was a first-team all-SEC selection as a senior last year after leading the Bulldogs with nine sacks and 15 tackles for loss. He also intercepted two passes and forced two fumbles. In his career at Mississippi State, he recorded 134 total tackles and 16 sacks.


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Gruden said Smith will be an outside linebacker in Washington’s base 3-4 defensive scheme but has the ability to play in multiple packages. 

“There’s so much nickel nowadays that he can be a defensive end, he can stand up, he can be a three-technique,” Gruden said. “There’s a lot of different things he can do which makes him so appealing to the eye.”

Regardless of his role, Smith will help fill the void left by Brian Orakpo, who spent six seasons with the Redskins before signing with the Tennessee Titans as a free agent last month. He believes the transition to outside linebacker will go smoothly.

“I feel like it’ll go well because we had a lot of different looks from college, playing stand-up and doing a lot of drops, doing a lot of different defensive looks from standing up,” he said. “I feel like it’ll be a great transition. It’s something I’m used to, something I’m familiar with, and it won’t be hard for me to adjust.”

Smith grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. As a child, he always wanted to play running back and thereby grew to idolize former Redskins running back Clinton Portis, a player of similar build.

“I was a Clinton Portis fan because I saw him run the ball, and he was big,” Smith said. “He was a big running back who could move really well, and I was pretty much bigger than all the kids.”

Smith moved to defensive end early in high school because, in the summer between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he said he grew from 5 feet 7 to 6 feet 2. He now hears others frequently compare his style of play to that of 33-year-old NFL veteran Antonio Smith, though he views his own skill set as a blend.

“I try to steal stuff from every great player who has a successful pass-rushing [career],” Smith said. “I kind of try to pattern myself after a lot of people: Von Miller, I steal moves from J.J. Watt, Justin Tuck, guys I feel fit the mold of what I can do, what I may have the potential to do.”

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