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Comfort level the key for Redskins' Smith as he looks for a big season

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Comfort level the key for Redskins' Smith as he looks for a big season

Preston Smith was all over the place during the 24 snaps he played in the Redskins’ preseason game against the Bills. He had two tackles, one for a five-years loss. The second-year outside linebacker nearly got a sack of Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor but Taylor was able to get rid of the ball just before Smith hit him from the blindside.

The Redskins are looking for big things out of their 2015 second-round draft pick this year and it looks like they might get them. They are looking for him to come at the offense from more places than he did last year, when he led all NFL rookies with eight sacks.

The key for Smith? Comfort.

“I’m getting a lot more comfortable in my role this year,” said Smith. “My role is building up from last year. I'm comfortable in the playbook and I'm comfortable with what I've got to do. I just go out there and play the best I can.”

Among the new roles he is being asked to assume this year is dropping back in coverage from his outside linebacker spot more often. Most pass rushers would rather move forward but Smith seems to relish the opportunity to learn more and contribute more.

“I got a pick six this week in practice,” he said proudly. “I'm getting a lot more comfortable in my role dropping back. I've been working on it a lot more with Coach Manusky, what angles to take to take away a lot of good throws and increase the chance of getting interceptions.”

Smith’s interception came during a portion of practice that was closed to the media. Like a good teammate he wouldn’t say who threw it, other than to say it wasn’t starter Kirk Cousins.

Head coach Jay Gruden is always quick to praise Smith but he was particularly enthusiastic after the Bills game.

“So far he’s looked excellent. 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. We haven’t used him in all the areas we’re going to use him yet. 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.”

There’s that concept of being comfortable again.

“I’m trying my best to make my presence felt when I'm out there on the field,” said Smith when told of Gruden’s comments. “They know what side I'm they recognize where I am whether I'm standing up on the left side, on the right side in a three-point stance, or standing up in the middle, I want them to recognize my presence.”

It appears that as long as Smith stays comfortable we will all recognize his presence once the regular season starts.

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Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 25, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 77 days.

Days until:

—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/17) 22
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 69

The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here are the five running backs on the Redskins’ schedule who gained the most yards in 2017. We looked at the top QBs last week.

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, 1,631 yards in 2016—The NFL’s leading rusher didn’t pop for a big day against the Redskins as a rookie last year. He still did plenty of damage in two games with a combined 180 yards and three touchdowns. We’ll find out in Week 8 just how much the Redskins’ rushing defense has improved.

David Johnson, Cardinals, 1,239 yards—Yeah, him again. He chewed up the Redskins in Arizona last year, picking up 84 yards rushing and another 91 yards receiving. I think I might pick Johnson over Elliott in a draft simply due to Johnson’s versatility.

LeGarrette Blount, Eagles, 1,161 yards—Blount picked up those yards with the Patriots last year and rushed for 18 touchdowns for good measure. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, 27th among qualifying running backs. It should be noted that the Eagles probably have a better offensive line than the Patriots do. It’s safe to say Blount is one dimensional; none of the top 50 in rushing yards had fewer than his seven receptions.

Mark Ingram, Saints, 1,043 yards—While Ingram had a good year, the Saints apparently weren’t overly impressed. They signed Adrian Peterson as a free agent and they drafted RB Alvin Kamara in the third round. We’ll have to see who is healthy and on the field in Week 11

Melvin Gordon, Chargers, 997 yards—The 2015 first-round pick missed the last three games and most of another one with an injury. When healthy, he was very effective. His stats projected over 16 games come to over 1,300 yards.

Best of the rest: Carlos Hyde of the 49ers just missed the top five with 988 rushing yards last year Besides Kamara, the only running backs drafted in the first three rounds the Redskins will face are Dalvin Cook (Vikings) and Kareem Hunt (Chiefs). It will be interesting to see if new Rams coach Sean McVay can revive Todd Gurley, who followed a 1,100-yard rookie season with a 4.8 per carry average by gaining 885 yards with a paltry 3.2 average in 2016. Marshawn Lynch comes to town with the Raiders after spending a year in retirement; with the Seahawks, he picked up 111, 72, and 132 on the ground against the Redskins. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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In case you missed it

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Kirk Cousins shows off competitive spirit, soft touch - at Jenga (VIDEO)

Kirk Cousins shows off competitive spirit, soft touch - at Jenga (VIDEO)

After NFL minicamps end in mid-June, and before the grind of training camps start in late July, players are free to have a little bit of fun and try to relax. For Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins that evidently means a game of Jenga.

Fun at Kirk's 10 year high school reunion!!!

A post shared by Julie Cousins (@juliehcousins) on

The video comes from Cousins' wife Julie, and the caption explains that the couple were attending the quarterback's 10-year high school reunion. Looks like a fun scene, and the Michigan waterfront looks even better.

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

For anybody that has watched Cousins on the practice field or listened to him mic'd up during a Redskins game, the competitive outburst is no surprise. Cousins likes to win, period. Even at life-size Jenga during his 10-year high school reunion. 

Obviously, contract talks between Cousins' representatives and the Redskins continue, and likely will until the July 17th franchise tag deadline. Last season, Cousins threw for nearly 5,000 passing yards, completing 67 percent of his passes to go with 25 TDs and 12 INTs. He's allowed to have a little fun here and there.

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