You’ve already heard it a number of times from Redskins coaches this offseason. “You can never have too many pass rushers.”
That’s the reason why, despite having Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan in the fold, the team used a second-round pick to select yet another outside linebacker in Stanford’s Trent Murphy.
And the dire need for defenders to more effectively get to quarterbacks is the reason why one of Jim Haslett’s first moves of the offseason, after being retained as defensive coordinator, was to hire a pass-rushing technician in Brian Baker.
The outside linebackers coach has spent the offseason studying Kerrigan and Orakpo’s bodies of work, and looking for ways to help them improve. He also has spent his time since the draft coaching up Murphy on the NFL game.
Now that he has had the chance to work with all three at the same time for the past month – 12 practices – Baker describes himself as blessed to have such a highly talented and highly versatile trio of pass rushers to work with.
All three have different skill sets, Baker said on Wednesday, as the Redskins wrapped up their final practice until the start of training camp on July 24. And all three have untapped potential and a desire to improve. Baker believes because of this, all three can reach new heights.
Asked on Wednesday – during his first interview since his hiring – to break down each of his top three pass rushers, Baker had this to say:
“For one thing, it’s a blessing to be with those guys. Those are two really good players,” Baker said of the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Orakpo and Kerrigan, who’s 6-4, 260. “There’s no mystery as to why they’ve been [to the Pro Bowl]. They’re pros. They want to learn, and want to get better. They have a great understanding of football, very instinctive. I could just go on and on about those guys and their intangibles, and their skill set on the field speaks for itself.”
Speaking further on the duo, Baker said, “ ’Rak’s special thing is, he’s an unbelievable momentum rusher. Once he gets off the rock, and he’s hitting the rush angles, he’s putting so much pressure on the tackle, that he is going to by and large put pressure on the quarterback – whether it’s an outside rush, or an outside-in rush. When the ball is snapped, he’s going. And then, Ryan, it’s his strength. When you ask about what you do to make him better, with Ryan, it’s to get him to play to his strengths, which is his strength. He is a freak. I mean, I was shocked to be around him to see it, and even to feel it – because I do a lot with them physically. (I’m probably getting too old for that). But that guy is powerful.”
Baker said both players don’t always know how to play to their strengths, and so, his job is to figure out ways to help them maximize their talents – for Orakpo to better take advantage of his speed, and for Kerrigan to more consistently use his power – and to position them for success.
“Really, I just want to look at the downs previously that they didn’t win and see if there was something mechanical in those situations, whether it be a rush angle, hand placement, tempo or something of that nature that prevented them from hitting the quarterback or at least getting the quarterback off their spot,” Baker said. “We’ll look at those situations individually. Ryan’s not going to rush like ’Rak, and the whole group is going to be different because their skill sets are different. So, from that standpoint, I need to give them something to be the best they can be because they’re all different.”
Baker described Murphy as a perfectionist, who at times is almost too hard on himself. The Stanford product desperately wants to catch up to Orakpo and Kerrigan, which is good. But Baker said he’s working to find a balance of knowing when to push him, and when to ease up.
“He wants to be the best outside ’backer he can be,” Baker says of Murphy. “That’s tremendous from a coaching standpoint. The thing I need to be careful of with my personality, is that I don’t beat him up so bad, because Trent – because he wants to be good that he’ll beat himself up. So we don’t need two people beating him up – me and him. So, I’ll give him what he needs to make the correction, to give him something to apply to the next situation that he’s in, so he can move forward.”
Murphy, who is 6-5, 250, also has a skill set that differentiates him from Orakpo and Kerrigan.
Baker said, “For a tall guy, he has a unique ability to bend. As we looked at players through the draft, at least since I’ve been in the league, I think that’s the probably the most common denominator – and I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of good players – but it’s their ability to bend. People go height, weight, speed. I’ve seen fast guys hit the quarterback, I’ve seen slow guys hit the quarterback. Big guys, small guys. It’s their ability to bend, to change their angles, their body, to take what the offense is giving him in a split second and that ability to be flexible. That’s what he has as a big man, even moreso than I’ve seen on film, and he knows how to use those things, which is good. So, again, those are the areas where I work with him: try to build on those strengths, and then give him something else to put in his toolbox if those things stop working.”
In the past three seasons, Kerrigan has lined up almost exclusively on the left edge, where he faces opposing right tackles. Orakpo, meanwhile, rushes from the right edge, facing the left tackles. But throughout the offseason, Baker and Haslett have had the two line up at multiple positions. Orakpo on the right one week, and Kerrigan on the left. And then, Orakpo on the left, and Kerrigan on the right, with Murphy bouncing around from the right or left edges, or to the interior of the line.
The versatility will accomplish a number of goals, the coaches believe.
“It helps us No. 1 from a matchup standpoint,” Baker said. “Because, at the end of the day, they’re still going to play offensive tackles to block outside linebackers, or defensive ends. So, there’s going to be a lot of 1-on-1s out there. So, if a guy can rush either side, when we look at film as we start study our opponents and watch on film, we can say, ‘What does that guy do from an offensive standpoint, and what is he vulnerable to?’ And if Ryan or ’Rak have a special thing that they do really well that takes advantage of that guy’s vulnerability, then you flip them. If they don’t, then we won’t.”
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