There are few defensive players in the NFL that could change a game by their presence alone. New York Giants’ Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor was that type of player. He instilled fear in opposing offenses, forcing them to account for where he was on the field on every play. 10 Pro Bowl berths, as well as two Super Bowl championships solidify the effort Taylor put forth on the field.
Houston Texans’ safety Ed Reed was that type of player as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. Reed is a ball hawking safety who routinely earned interceptions and returned them for touchdowns. Reed’s teammate, defensive end J. J. Watt, is also that type of player. Watt has turned into a disruptive force that opposing offenses must account for, evidenced by his NFL-leading 20.5 sacks. As a result, Watt was named 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Washington Redskins’ left outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (above) doesn’t garner the same attention that Reed and Watt have. However, he has quietly turned into a solid defensive force for Washington. Selected in the first round by the Redskins in 2011, Kerrigan has already recorded 16 sacks. He also has two career interceptions, returning them both for touchdowns. Yes, it’s only a two-year sample size. But considering that Washington’s performance on defense could be dismal at times in 2012, they need any big play they can get on defense.
But I digress. Kerrigan kept up with his recent tradition of turning interception returns into touchdowns during the 2013 NFL preseason. He victimized Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the Redskins’ preseason game against the Steelers, returning an interception 22 yards for a touchdown. This type of effort is just what Washington’s much-maligned defense needs if they wish to become Super Bowl contenders in 2013.
Kerrigan will be greatly aided by the return of right outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who is Washington’s most accomplished pass rusher. The attention that opposing offenses must pay to Orakpo will free Kerrigan to wreak havoc either in a three-point stance on the defensive front, or from his natural linebacker position.
Kerrigan also has a knack for leaping in the opposing quarterback’s passing lanes in an effort to knock down passes or snare interceptions. He was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 2012 season in recognition for his efforts. If Kerrigan can continue to sustain efficiency, Washington will be much improved in 2013.