- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 27, 2016

LANDOVER — With one fluid motion Preston Smith took on a pair of blocks from the Buffalo Bills, shed both of them and then tackled Jonathan Williams for a 5-yard loss.

The second-year outside linebacker showed his athleticism and strength on the play, but what allowed him to finish it was his ability to react quickly. At times during his rookie season, Smith was hesitant to trust his instincts and relied on his physical skills as he got acclimated to the Washington Redskins’ system.

Smith returned to the Redskins this season looking more confident on the field and it’s been evident this preseason, especially during plays such as the one he made in Washington’s 21-16 win against the Bills on Friday night.

“So far he’s looked excellent,” coach Jay Gruden said after the win. “I felt him today on the sideline. I felt him on the edge. I felt in the backfield disrupting plays. He’s physical at the point of attack. He can drop in coverage which he hasn’t done a whole lot in his life. He’s been effective.”

The Redskins have experimented by moving Smith along the defensive line. At times on Friday, Smith attacked from an interior position rather than his traditional outside linebacker position on the edge of the team’s 3-4 scheme. Other times, the Redskins disguised Smith’s looks and dropped him into coverage.

As he gets more comfortable in the system, the Redskins hope to be able move him around more, something they weren’t able to do during his rookie season.

“We haven’t used him in all the areas we’re going to use him yet,” Gruden said. “I think there’s more things he can do. He’s a big, physical kid. He is more comfortable and more confident. Another one that is from year one to year two. That’s a big step and we expect big improvement.”

One of the things that has also helped Smith is working with outside linebackers coach Greg Manusky. The coaching position was vacant last season, which meant the outside linebackers rarely got isolated attention from the coaching staff. With Manusky on staff they have their own position group meetings and sessions of individual drills in practice, which has helped Smith sharpen his coverage techniques.

“We have a lot of great looks in practice,” Smith said. “I actually got a pick-six this week in practice. We’re working on a lot of drops with coach Manusky, working on the great angles we take, take away a lot of good throws and come away with an interception.”

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