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Junior Galette's return, patient run game could provide big boost for Redskins

ASHBURN, Virginia -- It’s hard to know the impact Washington Redskins linebacker Junior Galette will make Sunday or this season as a whole; so much depends upon his health. Aside from a minor hamstring issue in camp, Galette has been healthy, but when you haven’t played in two years, questions always will be asked.

But he’s stood out to teammates in practice and he does have a history of success, though he last played in 2014. Still, the Redskins are anticipating success with him, and he looked good enough in the preseason to indicate they just might be right.

A big key for Galette will be that he can throw a change-up at a blocker. For example, if a tackle must block Ryan Kerrigan for three or four snaps, the Redskins can then line Galette up in the same spot. Galette is more explosive than Kerrigan; it could lead to a curveball that benefits Washington.

Also, they now have the ability to pair Galette’s speed off the ball with power on a stunt, something the Redskins haven’t had in recent years. A Galette-Preston Smith pairing could lead to fun games up front. Also, against mobile Eagles' quarterback Carson Wentz, Galette's quickness will help.

“We expect him to come out and play well, be a great pass-rusher for us,” Redskins coach Jay Grduen said of Galette. “He’s hungry. He’s been dying to get back on the field. He’s excited to play so I’m excited to watch him play. Hopefully we get them in some third-and-longs to get him an opportunity to rush. That’ll be the key for us. Let him get his hand on the ground and come around the corner like he does so well.”

Galette said his hamstring issues are long gone. He said from the time camp opened to now, he’s feeling much better -- more explosive, better hand-eye coordination on rush moves.

“Everything’s different. It’s night and day,” he said.

And after two years of no games, he said he didn’t have trouble sleeping leading up to his return Sunday against the Eagles.

“I had trouble sleeping when I wasn’t around football,” he said.

Other notes:

Stick to the ground: The Redskins always have been patient with their run game against the Eagles. In six games vs. them under Jay Gruden, they’ve averaged 28.5 carries per game. They know that Philadelphia’s defense leads to some negative runs, but also provides openings for big gains.

Indeed, last season the Redskins averaged 6.02 yards per carry vs. the Eagles. But they lost yards on 10 of their 58 carries.

The Eagles use a wide-nine front in which an end aligns outside the tight end and the front’s goal is to get upfield fast. That leads to penetration and, sometimes, tackles for a loss. In that second game, for example, on Chris Thompson’s 25-yard touchdown run the Eagles had five defenders one yard across the line of scrimmage after the snap. But the Redskins called a quick pitch to the outside and, with one blocker ahead of him (tackle Trent Williams), Thompson scored untouched.

On 10 of Rob Kelley’s 16 carries in that game, at least one defender was across the line at the snap -- and more often than not there were two or three. But it created lanes elsewhere.

“It forces the back to make a decision earlier than normal,” Kelley said. “I also think it’s a benefit. It helps your reads out early and if this guy shoots upfield, you know where to go. If they have something they’re good at, [we] do have something that can beat it.”

Lane Johnson’s return. The Eagles’ right tackle did not play against Washington last season; Kerrigan, who rushes from that side, recorded three sacks and a forced fumble to clinch the second win. But Kerrigan knows with Johnson back, he’ll have a more challenging day.

“He’s so athletic and a big guy,” Kerrigan said. “He’s a tough matchup in that regard. ... Their line is really athletic.”

Covering Sproles: Redskins linebacker Zach Brown said facing running back Chris Thompson every day in practice during one-on-one drills, or during team work in training camp, helps prepare him to defend a back such as Darren Sproles. It’ll be the first time Brown will face Sproles.

“He’s a good player,” Brown said. “I’ve guarded a lot of people like him. He’s still a running back; he’s not a receiver. He’s more quick than fast. With Chris, he’s more explosive and fast out of his cuts. Once he goes, he can go. He can go from zero to 100. It makes me get going faster so when I go against people like Sproles, when he breaks I can be on him faster and get to my top speed faster than he gets to his.”

More knowledge: Ziggy Hood started at nose tackle last season out of necessity after Kedric Golston was lost for the season in Week 2. Hood is a natural end, but had to play inside just as he’s doing this season. But the difference? He’s now prepared.

Plus, line coach Jim Tomsula is far more nuanced and detailed in his coaching techniques. That, too, should help. Hood said he’s helped him with his footwork, how to keep them chopping and moving in the middle and not just being suckered into getting upfield and having them hit the other gap.

Hood also had to get used to worrying about three linemen possibly blocking him: both guards and the center. At end, he usually had to be concerned with just two blockers.

“I react a whole lot faster now,” Hood said. “I’m able to back up from the ball and see everything and critique it because I’ve had so many reps at it. Last year I didn’t have any reps. I had the chance to play it in the preseason and that’s a tell-tale sign: This is what I need to work on leading up to the season. I didn’t have that last season. It’s a huge difference.”