ASHBURN — As Redskins outside linebacker Preston Smith went through last season, he kept notes, tracking strengths and weaknesses from game to game.
When he reached the offseason, Smith worked to turn his weaknesses into strengths. In his hometown of Atlanta, personal trainers helped improve Smith’s footwork and movement.
Midway through this season, the three-year veteran has 4½ sacks, already tying his total from 2016. And coming up Sunday, Smith and the Redskins face a notoriously bad Seattle Seahawks offensive line.
“The season isn’t over,” Smith said. “There’s still more sacks to get. There’s still more work to be done.”
Smith, a 2015 second-round pick, had a productive rookie season, racking up eight sacks. But defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said Smith had a “so-so” year last season.
Smith had mixed feelings, too, calling his season “unfortunate.”
“I feel like it was a learning season,” Smith said. “I didn’t get the sacks that I wanted, but I had some good rushes I could take from and build off of when I looked back at it.”
He said his main issue was sticking with his rush. There were games, he said, when he wasn’t consistent. In Atlanta, he focused on his burst off on the line of scrimmage and his reaction time.
Coach Jay Gruden has noticed a difference. In general, the Redskins’ pass rush has improved this season because of a stronger defensive line that created an interior push. Gruden, though, credited Smith with forcing offenses to deal with him.
“A good pass rush, you can’t do it by yourself,” Gruden said. “You have to a good push up the middle. When Jonathan [Allen] and Matt [Ioannidis] were going good, they were getting good push up the middle, which made the quarterback stay back in the pocket and couldn’t let him step up. So that helps out a lot but also Preston doing much better on his own with his pass rush moves and his effort and his finish.”
Allen and Ioannidis, though, are both injured. Two weeks ago, Allen underwent surgery for a Lisfranc sprain, which put the rookie defensive end on injured reserve. Ioannidis also had surgery Wednesday for his fractured hand. There’s a chance Ioannidis could come back next week, but he’s out against the Seahawks.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, made a push at the trade deadline to beef up their offensive line, trading a 2018 second-round pick to Houston for Pro Bowler Duane Brown. Before the move, Seattle had allowed 16 sacks, but the reality was worse than the numbers let on. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson helped ease the damage with his speed.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Brown will help bring leadership to their offensive line.
“We do not have a lot of years of experience at offensive line – and we haven’t for the last few years,” Carroll said. ” … He’s a big, strong, smart guy that I think is really going to help our guys.”
Discussing the Redskins’ pass rush, Carroll said outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan “is a problem every snap.
“Those guys, the edge guys, as so often is the case in the 3-4 schemes, they’re really highlighted players and they’ve got just what they want there,” Carroll said.