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For Redskins, pressure is on the outside linebackers to turn around defense

Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan had 81/2 sacks last season — second-most on the team. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo are two of the biggest names on the Redskins’ defense, and heading into the 2014 season, the linebackers will have to live up to expectations to help Washington be more consistent on that side of the ball.

Both players had up-and-down seasons in 2013. Kerrigan started strong, with five sacks in the first four games, but a meniscus tear slowed him down the stretch.

“I think there are some things, alignment- and assignment-wise, that are going to allow us to be a little more effective,” Kerrigan said. “Coaches can tweak things but it has to come down to the players making plays.”

Orakpo returned from injury in 2013 and posted double-digit sacks for the first time since 2009. Yet the veteran failed to make an impact in several games. Now playing under the franchise tag, which will pay him $11.45 million this season, Orakpo needs to prove he is an elite pass-rusher.

“You know, he’s had a great career already,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “We have high hopes for him, and the reason why we franchised him and gave him what we gave him is because we think he’s a hell of a player.”

The linebackers fared well in the first three games of the preseason, as Washington’s defense showed a more aggressive approach in pass pressure that resulted in three sacks for Kerrigan and one for Orakpo.

“We’re really excited about the possibilities that we have with [Orakpo] and Kerrigan on the outside, being a little bit more physical, being a little bit more aggressive,” Gruden said.

With the season opener around the corner, the Redskins linebackers know that the onus will be on them to step up, especially if the offense continues to labor.

“We’re looking pretty good so far, and that’s an encouraging thing,” Kerrigan said. “The preseason is a good litmus test, good to get a little warm-up for the season, but we’re ready for the games to start counting.”

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