ASHBURN — Joe Barry practically began salivating in late July when he started considering the potential of his team’s pass rush.
Barry, entering his first training camp as the Washington Redskins’ defensive coordinator, already knew he’d have the chance to work with Ryan Kerrigan, the outside linebacker who had a career-high 13.5 sacks the previous season. Two days into the practice period, Barry was gifted another formidable weapon — Junior Galette, a skilled yet troubled presence whose personal issues led to his departure from the New Orleans Saints over the summer.
That excitement didn’t carry beyond the preseason. Galette tore his left Achilles’ tendon on Aug. 26, an injury that would require at least six months of rehabilitation and leave him out for the year. Rather than incorporating a player who had 22 sacks in two seasons, the Redskins were back to square one, relying upon Trent Murphy, entering his second year, and rookie Preston Smith, a second-round pick.
Through eight games, it’s clear that Galette likely could have made an impact. As the Redskins enter their game against the Saints on Sunday, they have dropped the quarterback just 13 times, tied for the third-fewest sacks in the league. Their outside linebackers have 6.5 of those sacks, which is the fourth-lowest total among teams that run a 3-4 defense.
Kerrigan, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in May and then broke his right hand on Oct. 25, has just 3.5 sacks — two against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5 and none in the three games since. Smith has dropped the quarterback twice, and Murphy, who had 2.5 sacks in 15 games last season, has done so once this year.
“I’m not going to say I’m displeased, [but] I’m not going to say I’m pleased,” coach Jay Gruden said Thursday, when asked about Murphy and Smith. “It’s a work in progress and we’re working with them … but they have a ways to go before they get the production that they expect and that we expect.”
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After the Redskins lost outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who had been with the team for six seasons, to the Tennessee Titans in March, they figured to proceed with Murphy and Smith to compete to step in opposite Kerrigan.
Galette’s availability changed that. He was released by the Saints on July 27, once he passed a physical after tearing his left pectoral in a weightlifting accident in late May. He was arrested in January on allegations of domestic violence, and, in June, a two-year-old video that appears to show him striking several people with a belt on a beach surfaced on the Internet.
By releasing Galette, who signed a four-year, $41.5 million contract in September 2014, the Saints were responsible for roughly $17.5 million of the $21 million he was guaranteed as part of the contract. When asked on Wednesday if he regretted releasing Galette, coach Sean Payton simply said no.
“Listen, there are a lot of transactions that take place during the offseason, but the defense we’re in now — you’re referencing the outside linebackers — our sack production and hurries and pressure production has gone up,” Payton said.
In late August, Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan said there was “no doubt” he would try to re-sign Galette in March, when his one-year, $745,000 contract expires. That could cast Murphy, who has started all eight games and played 72.5 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps, and Smith, who has played 37.9 percent of snaps, back into reserve roles.
Both players have had their troubles — especially, as Barry said Thursday, with consistency. On Sunday, Murphy had an angle on wide receiver Danny Amendola on an end around, but instead was crossed up and fell to the ground. Five plays later, he was able to run in stride with tight end Scott Chandler, preventing a completion down the right sideline.
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For Smith, the biggest adjustment, he said, is still the speed of the game. At Mississippi State, he felt he could cover and beat players because of his athleticism. With the Redskins, that’s no longer the case.
“I’ve got to keep coming out here and working hard, because that will roll over to the game,” Smith said. “When I get to the game, that will be a whole lot better, because I’ll play to my potential and play to where I’m supposed to be.”
Barry pointed out that the Saints have allowed a combined 16 sacks in their five losses but just six sacks in their four wins, underscoring the importance of getting to quarterback Drew Bress on Sunday.
As to whether Galette would have aided the Redskins in that pursuit, Barry, who typically avoids such hypotheticals, couldn’t help but think about it.
“I look through the windshield, not through the rearview mirror,” he said. “I’m always, constantly looking ahead, trying to improve, but Junior specifically? Absolutely. Great player, impact player. It would have been great to have him.”