By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Though Washington Redskins Coach Jim Zorn expects all of his players to be healthy when training camp opens Thursday morning, he already knows there will be one noticeable absence.
Brian Orakpo, the team's first-round draft pick, remains unsigned and did not report to the team's practice facility Wednesday alongside his 79 teammates.
"As soon as it can get done -- and I'm hoping it's soon -- the better it's going to be for us and for him," Zorn said.
The Redskins selected Orakpo with the 13th pick in the April draft, and he is one of 26 first-rounders who have yet to sign. Orakpo appears to be caught up in the contract gridlock, as agents wait on other first-round picks to sign to better gauge their own clients' value. Zorn said he doesn't expect Orakpo to be the first of the bunch to put his signature on a contract.
"It's not all in his hands," Zorn said. "He can't just say, 'Yeah, I'm coming.' . . . There's a big pool of guys right now who are not signed. I think there's just some posturing and positioning that needs to take place and that's up to those young men and it's up to the agents and it's up to the clubs to figure it out."
Though Orakpo starred as a defensive end at the University of Texas, the Redskins planned to continue testing him during training camp as a strong-side linebacker. While that makes the next five weeks crucial for Orakpo's development, Zorn said he was "pleasantly surprised" with Orakpo's progress during the minicamps and offseason workouts and is hopeful that missing the early days of training camp won't set Orakpo back.
"He's a quick learner. He took to it very well," Zorn said.
Last season, the Redskins opened training camp without injured cornerback Carlos Rogers and defensive end Erasmus James and then watched as defensive ends Phillip Daniels and Alex Buzbee suffered season-ending injuries on the first day of camp. On the eve of this year's camp, though, Zorn said he expects every player who is under contract to report and didn't anticipate any health issues. Some players, such as tackle Chris Samuels, guard Randy Thomas, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin and defensive end Phillip Daniels might practice only once a day during two-a-days so they don't aggravate old injuries.
In addition to Orakpo, one other player who won't be anywhere near Redskins Park for training camp is embattled quarterback Michael Vick. Zorn confirmed that Vick, who was granted a conditional reinstatement this week from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, is not a part of the team's plans this season.
"I want to wish the best for him," Zorn said. "There's a way he and Roger Goodell have created to find his way back into the league. I would just say it won't be with us, at least at this juncture."
Pressed on whether Vick might play a role with the team at a later date, Zorn said, "It depends on how many years he's going to be in the league."
As for Orakpo, neither team officials nor Orakpo's agents at CAA are discussing the negotiations publicly, though the sides continued discussions Wednesday evening. Complicating matters is the fact that CAA represents nine first-rounders -- the most ever for one agency -- and its agents are busy negotiating several deals at once.
In the meantime, the Redskins will continue training camp without Orakpo. Safety Chris Horton, who was a rookie last season, recalls the first few days of training camp as vital.
"Those days were miserable, I'm not going to lie," Horton said. "I was tired. Our coach worked us until we couldn't work any more. We have to do that for 3 1/2 weeks. They were very crucial. I learned a lot."
Fourth-year linebacker Rocky McIntosh played alongside Orakpo during the minicamps and offseason workouts and says he was especially impressed with how quickly Orakpo picked up the new position.
"Physically and mentally, he's way ahead. He's been doing well out there," McIntosh said. "We have a great coach. Our D-coordinator really opened up some things for him to just go out there and play and hopefully succeed. It's all on him now to show us what he has and we'll take it from there."