- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2017

RICHMOND — If Ryan Anderson had elected to stay at Alabama for his final year of eligibility, the Redskins rookie linebacker estimated he would have most likely been finishing up his conditioning test and preparing for training camp. Indeed, Alabama’s fall camp started Thursday.

But Anderson, Washington’s second round pick, is with the Redskins now and has been in training camp for a week — picking up just how different the NFL is than Alabama.

“Practices there are a little bit rougher than here,” Anderson said of his alma-mater. “We do a lot of banging around there, so it definitely prepared me physically and mentally for this grind I’m doing now.”

Come again? Did Anderson really just say Alabama was tougher than the NFL?

Not quite.

There’s a competition level in the NFL that is leagues above than what Anderson has experienced.

“I’m not taking no reps against no freshman that are just coming in from high school,” Anderson said. “All these guys are good and they’ve got families to feed, man. So, you have to go hard every play out there. You just try to get your foot in the door and get your feet wet, but you’re going to have to earn it.”

The Redskins are counting on Anderson to earn it. He was part of a Redskins draft class that prioritized defense, including selecting his fellow Alabama teammate Jonathan Allen in the first round.

At Alabama, Anderson was a versatile defender. Nick Saban used him as an inside and outside linebacker, rushing him off the edge. He had 8.5 sacks and 61 tackles in his final year.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden has used Anderson in a similar way, so far. Anderson has taken snaps mostly with the second and third teams, being used in pass rushing situations and as a nickel linebacker. He has occasionally seen snaps with the first team.

Gruden said playing in huge games with Alabama helped make Anderson NFL-ready.

“The SEC, you can argue all you want, is the best conference in football and they played great competition week in and week out,” Gruden said. “Every game was a huge game for them, not to mention their record was what it was. Their defense was as stellar as it was. They got tons of turnovers. I think they scored a touchdown in like 10 straight games on defense, and they just had that mentality of running to the ball.” 

Anderson understands why NFL practices are less physical. “At this level, it’s all about protecting the players,” he said.

In college, coaches are focused more on development.

“You’re bringing players out of high school, and you have to got to see if they’re tough,” Anderson said. “You’re going to make them tough if they’re not. We do a lot of team run, a lot of blitz periods. It’s a lot of banging going on down there.”

Anderson, however, still has his moments of practicing like he’s still in college. Veteran linebacker Mason Foster has seen Anderson go at the speed of college practices and coaches have had to advise the rookie to tone it down.

“Coach will dial you back a little bit. It’s not always take you down to the ground, full contact,” Mason said. “But even then, he feels the tempo. Like I told him, you’d rather be told to slow down than to speed up. And he understands that.” 

Foster said, so far, Anderson has been “everything as advertised.”

The two have traded barbs over last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal between Alabama and the University of Washington, Foster’s alma mater.

The Crimson Tide won 24-7 and Anderson had a game-changing pick-six near the end of the first half.

“Everything you see against the Huskies is exactly what he brings to the table,” Foster said. “He’s a versatile football player, smart instinctive. You know, I can’t be too mad. When I see him in person and I see how he is … you could see why he did it to my Dogs like that. I’m glad he’s on my side now.” 

Anderson, though, insists he didn’t indulge in talk trash with Foster.

“There wasn’t much to say, man,” he said. “Ya’ll saw the game.”

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