The coach has too many mental scars from his team’s past two injury-filled seasons, and when asked how the linebacker entering his ninth season has been able to play every game in his career, Gruden had a fitting reply:
“You trying to jinx him?” he asked.
Well, no. But Kerrigan does stand out on a team that has led the NFL in players on injured reserve each of the past two seasons (52 total). Since Kerrigan was drafted 16th overall by the Redskins in 2011, he hasn’t missed a game. He did break his hand in 2015, but they had a bye the following week, otherwise he would have missed one.
In his tenure, there have been a combined 128 Redskins placed on injured reserve. Meanwhile, he is tied with Arizona’s Patrick Peterson for fourth among active players with 128 consecutive starts.
“When you talk about the definition of a professional athlete, Ryan Kerrigan will be at the top of your list,” said Gruden, who was not crossing his fingers when discussing this, but it’s uncertain about his toes. “There is good fortune, too, involved in that. He plays with great leverage, great hands, stays out of harm’s way pretty much.”
Redskins tight end Vernon Davis didn’t know Kerrigan had played in every game until being told. He called it “amazing.”
“If you’re out here working your ass off in training camp and going back to the hotel and ordering burgers and fries for dinner, you’re going to struggle the next few days.”
Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan on diet
“I’d compare him to a guy like Tom Brady. He’s always on top of things when it comes to his body,” Davis said. “He talks about it, too — everything he does to make sure he’s prepared when he goes out on the field. Kerrigan is one of those guys. He’s always in the training room, getting work done. He’s out here stretching. He just takes care of his body. When you do that over the course of time you create that longevity.”
Kerrigan knows his fate could change in one play, but also knows that talking about it won’t lead to a bad injury.
“I am superstitious to an extent, but I don’t mind,” Kerrigan said. “It’s amazing. I can sit here and say it’s because I take such good care of myself. [But] there’s luck, a divine intervention factor as well. I’d be ignorant to think there wasn’t. I’ve been really fortunate. But I do work to take care of myself.”
Kerrigan’s routine has helped him stay healthy. Here’s how:
Drew Brees indirectly affected Kerrigan’s diet. He wrote about being tested for food allergies in his book, which caught the eye of former Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, who then passed this info along to Kerrigan. After being tested, Kerrigan scrapped these foods: milk, eggs, almonds, whey protein and pineapples.
“I would say diet is most important,” Kerrigan said, “even more so than training.”
Now, every day starts with two chicken breasts, one cup of oats, a tablespoon of flax seeds, a tablespoon of chia seeds plus raspberries, blueberries and half of an avocado. For lunch and dinner, he eats a lot of fish — heavy on the protein — vegetables and “good carbs.” The other day for example, he ate two salmon fillets, brown rice and asparagus. He limits red meat to once a week, something he’s done since 2012.
Kerrigan said when he started doing all of this in 2017, he noticed a big difference.
“I didn’t feel as achy,” he said. “I felt great that entire year. I never had one week where I felt like, ‘Oh, man I’m banged up.’ I was able to work out and lift really hard all year because of that. That really helped me as well.”
He didn’t want to develop a strong body only to mistreat it with food.
“You see people over the years who work out, work out, work out but then going home and not eating well,” Kerrigan said. “If you’re out here working your ass off in training camp and going back to the hotel and ordering burgers and fries for dinner, you’re going to struggle the next few days. You’ll deplete your body and not let your body get up to par the next day.”
300 ounces of water
The average water consumption per day for a healthy male is about three liters, according to Webmd.com. That equals about 100 ounces per day. Kerrigan, more active than the average male, drinks three times that amount.
Yes, that equates to 300 ounces per day. Kerrigan said he drinks 15 20-ounce bottles of water per day during the season — and probably more during training camp. He’ll sneak in a sports drink or two during practice as well.
“I learned early on how big an effect being hydrated can be on preventing soft tissue injuries,” Kerrigan said. “When you think about it, [tissues] are like a sponge. If a sponge is wet, you can move it around really well. It’s pliable and mobile. But if it’s dry, it’s real stiff and firm. It’s flimsy. When they’re hydrated they’re more mobile and can withstand you moving and putting the torque on your body.”
Of course, drinking 300 ounces probably results in a path worn out to the restroom.
“It’s obnoxious,” Kerrigan said. “I try to limit the water and [not drink] after 6 or 7 [p.m.] because I don’t want to get up all night peeing. There are definitely a lot of trips to the restroom.”
Kerrigan had a close-up view of an NFL ironman: London Fletcher, who holds the record for most consecutive starts by a linebacker with 215. Fletcher was entering his 14th season when Kerrigan was drafted in 2011 and the rookie studied the routine of Fletcher and former teammate Lorenzo Alexander, which included a lot of stretching and a foam roller. Now, every day before he works out Kerrigan uses a foam roller for 30 minutes — and does it again afterward.
“It helps my muscles be more pliable and ready to move,” he said. “It helps me recover, but it’s also helped me in the preparatory phase of training. … It also makes me fresher for the work to do the next day.”
Cold tubs, boots and chambers
In 2017, like Cousins, Kerrigan bought a hyperbaric chamber and uses it at least four nights a week for an hour at a time. He’ll come home, get in the chamber and watch film for an hour. It increases oxygenation within the body; helps reduce pain and swelling, and increases the impact of antibiotics among other benefits. His muscles recover faster.
But that’s not all. Kerrigan sits in a cold tub six days a week from the time camp opens through the end of the season. He takes advantage of the Redskins’ new recovery room, using their photobiomodulation bed, which he said looks like a tanning bed but uses infrared lights to repair cells. He’ll also use their float pod, which uses Epsom salt to help create a sensation of floating. It relaxes the body. Players say it’s like taking a long nap.
Finally, after games he’ll slip on NormaTec boots on both legs. They fill with air and compress the leg, pushing out the lactic acid, Kerrigan said. He’ll keep them on for 30 minutes.
It adds up to, so far, a healthy career. It’s been a consistent one as well: Kerrigan has 84.5 sacks, with 13 in each of the past two seasons. He’s earned four Pro Bowl berths, including the past three years.
Kerrigan, who turns 31 this month, has two years left on his contract. Beyond that, he has no idea how long he wants to play.
“I don’t want to shortchange myself,” he said. “I want to play as long as I can.”
But he can dream of a longer career because of some luck, investing in equipment to help himself and a determined approach.
“I’m consistent about it,” Kerrigan said. “Some guys say ‘I’ll eat my good, healthy foods today; I’ll hydrate today.’ But the next day they might fall off a little bit. Especially during the season I’m regimented. I don’t deviate. I do what I found works for me.”