Redskins linebacker Ryan Anderson is the first to admit he didn’t approach his rookie year like he should have. For one, he said he didn’t understand how long the season was — which meant Anderson wasn’t getting the proper treatment to take care of his body in advance.
But there was another issue — one centered around Anderson’s hometown roots — that held the 24-year-old back: Southern food was just too good to pass up.
“I’m from the country, man,” said the Daphne, Alabama, native. “I always ate neck bones, collard greens, macaroni, man. Ain’t no damn vegan or none of that.”
Yet after Anderson played only 17.6 percent of the defensive snaps last season, the linebacker knew he needed to change. So he switched to a primarily fish diet, cut out red meat and got away from “a lot of the fried stuff.”
As a result, Anderson has dropped 10 pounds and said he reduced his body fat percentage by three or four points. He can feel the difference, too.
“I’m a lot more looser,” said Anderson as the Redskins prepared to take on the New York Jets in Thursday’s second preseason game. “I feel a lot better. … Coming out of practice and not being sore, it makes a big difference.”
If Anderson can take a step forward in Year 2, that would be good news to the Redskins. Besides using a second-round pick — which is a valuable asset — to draft Anderson, Washington benefits from a flurry of pass rushers. In 2017, the Redskins defense generated the league’s highest-rated pass rush on opposing quarterbacks — in part because they were able to keep starters Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith fresh.
Kerrigan, who played only 74 percent of the defensive snaps last year, recorded 13 sacks — just a half sack short of his career-high. Smith played just 68 percent of the snaps and tied his career-high of eight sacks.
The presence of veteran Junior Galette allowed the Redskins to liberally sub out Kerrigan or Smith. But Washington chose to not re-sign Galette, 30, after the season.
Anderson, in theory, should fill that void, though he has to prove he can do it. The Redskins also signed veteran Pernell McPhee as another pass-rushing weapon.
Coach Jay Gruden said Anderson has done a better job of adjusting to the pro game.
“The biggest adjustment, coming from your rookie into your second year, is the professionalism,” Gruden said. “You can see when he comes into the building every day he has something he wants to work on whether it’s on the field or off the field. Is it getting stronger in the weight room, the knowledge of the game, watching the game on your iPad or whatever it is, more understanding the defense and concepts. You can see that about him.”
Under Nick Saban at Alabama, Anderson recalled only having to write down a play once since he knew he would be getting more than 70-75 reps per day to nail the game plan down.
But with the Redskins, Anderson was buried in the depth chart, so the daily reps weren’t there. That forced him to pay better attention in meetings and study what was happening around him.
While Anderson wanted to play last season, he went through a similar experience at Alabama. Ranked as the sixth-best outside linebacker coming out of high school, Anderson was still redshirted his freshman year — a decision that left him thinking about transferring, according to Bleacher Report.
But Anderson chose to stay and he developed into a college star.
Anderson hasn’t shown the signs he’ll be a star in the NFL yet, but his performance in the first preseason game against the Patriots was promising. He quickly got off the edge and looked explosive.
Now, he’ll try to continue that momentum into Thursday’s game against the Jets and for the rest of the season.
“I learned a lot, man,” Anderson said of his rookie year. “I wouldn’t change it for the world. … I just had to get back grinding and start back over and start working again.”