By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
As he introduced Washington Redskins first-round draft pick Brian Orakpo at a news conference yesterday morning, Coach Jim Zorn leaned forward into the microphone and, pumping his fist twice, shouted: "Orakpo, Orakpo."
Zorn was mimicking the response he said he got from fans at FedEx Field on Saturday before the draft when he asked whom the Redskins should select with their first pick. And after the former Texas defensive end slipped out of the top 10 and into the Redskins' grasp at the 13th overall pick, Washington indeed chose the 6-foot-4, 260-pounder with hopes he will help solve the team's ineffective pass rush.
"As the draft goes I know that in those first early picks we thought that Brian would be taken and gone," Zorn said. "And then as the picks started coming down and Brian was still there we all started kind of sweating to think if we might have had the opportunity . . . could we actually get Brian Orakpo?"
Wearing a cream-colored suit and yellow Redskins hat, and with several family members seated in the front row, Orakpo showed humility and a grasp of the franchise's history, citing the success of former Redskins greats Dexter Manley and Charles Mann, and he expressed a desire to "earn my job, earn my position on the team."
Orakpo will be expected to compete for a starting role immediately on a defense that was ranked fourth in the NFL last season but struggled to get to the quarterback -- Washington had 24 sacks last season, tying for 28th in the league.
Orakpo said his exact role, which could involve playing some downs at linebacker and others rushing the quarterback at defensive end, is still "up in the air." Orakpo said he would be comfortable dropping back to linebacker if that is what he is asked to do.
"Since last year [Texas] had a great defensive coordinator in [Will] Muschamp, and he taught me, when we went to any linebacker situation I'd be that linebacker position," Orakpo said. "It's in my blood, but obviously I can rush the passer as well. . . .
"It's something that I've done before. I've covered backs, I've covered number two slot receivers inside, [and] I've covered tight ends. It's just the nature of the game and the nature of the formations that they give us. So I'm pretty familiar, and all I can do is get better."
Orakpo won several awards during his senior season at Texas, including the Lombardi Award for the nation's best lineman and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to the country's best defensive player. Considered one of the hardest-working players in the Longhorns' program, Orakpo had a team-high 11 1/2 sacks his senior season, which ranked sixth in the country, while also registering 40 tackles, including 17 1/2 for a loss.
"We know that he can pass rush; that's sort of something that we have a very good feel about," Zorn said. "We've seen it over and over again. So I think what we want to do is see what else he can do and introduce him to some different kinds of situations. So you may see him early in our minicamp just trying it out at a linebacker position just to see him, to see how comfortable he is. But certainly he is going to be a pass rusher. Even though he might start with his hand up, at some point, on third down, maybe first or second down, but definitely on third down, he's going to have a hand down and rush the passer."
In his opening statements, Orakpo showed he had studied his new team, praising the franchise and its former players and saying he hoped to "continue that great tradition" of defensive ends.
"They done a great job," Orakpo said. "And I just want to really show those guys and show the rest of the Redskin nation that I'm a guy here ready to work, come in humble and compete and most importantly, win."
Coincidentally, the nickname of the team at Orakpo's high school, Lamar High in Houston, is the Redskins, and Orakpo said that helped with his understanding of the franchise.
"We modeled the Washington Redskins, and now I went from a Redskin to a Longhorn back to a Redskin," Orakpo said. "And my high school coach told me, 'Once you're a Redskin you're always a Redskin.' "
The Redskins chose Orakpo after failing to move up in the draft to select Southern California quarterback Mark Sanchez, who went to the New York Jets with the fifth overall pick. New York traded up with Cleveland to draft Sanchez.
On Saturday, Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, acknowledged Washington had "made a couple of calls, but it was too expensive" to move up.
In addition to receiving the Jets' first-round pick to move up, Cleveland also received a second-round pick (No. 52 overall), quarterback Brett Ratliff, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and safety Abram Elam.
Zorn said yesterday the Redskins also had considered moving up to select Orakpo but did not have to make such a move. The Redskins did not take long to choose Orakpo, and Zorn said the team did not consider moving down.
"We listened, but those listening ears were going to be if he wasn't there," Zorn said. "It wasn't going to be if he was there. I mean that would have, in my mind, been an error."
Redskins Note: The Redskins have agreed to terms with 13 undrafted free agents: Delaware tight end Robert Agnone, Maryland offensive lineman Scott Burley, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, Miami defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, Michigan cornerback Doug Dutch, Washington State tight end Devin Frischknecht, Concordia wide receiver John Halman, UCLA defensive tackle Brigham Harwell, Oklahoma safety Lendy Holmes, Arizona linebacker Ronnie Palmer, Illinois defensive end Derek Walker, Maryland offensive lineman Edwin Williams and Oregon wide receiver Jaison Williams.