By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 4, 2009 4:22 PM
Rookie defensive end/linebacker Brian Orakpo knows a "sucker route" when he sees one. At least that's what he tells linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti.
"Just not biting on everything, that's the toughest part," Orakpo said about playing in coverage. "You see stuff in front of you going on, but what K.O. calls it is a sucker route.
"There's something right behind you. Don't take that sucker route and try to bite it and [then] the quarterback throws it right over your back. You got to be aware."
He's had a solid start after missing the first day of training camp. In this morning's practice, he blew past offensive lineman Chris Samuels on one play. An outstanding career as a hand-down rush end at the University of Texas, Orakpo is undergoing a conversion process with the Skins. Washington plans to use Orakpo in a hybrid role, having him play strong-side linebacker on first and second down and rush the passer on third down from an end spot. Orakpo, however, had little experience as a linebacker in college. "In the Big 12, we pass so much, and they needed me to rush," Orakpo said.
And although Orakpo has impressed coaches with his ability to grasp things quickly, the Skins are putting a lot on his shoulders. The Skins, however, used many three-safety alignments last season, so Orakpo likely would not be on the field in those situations. But some coverage would be part of the job.
"When you get a rookie in general, you just start from the bottom floor as if they don't know anything," Olivadotti said. "Now, most guys come in with some sort of a base. But basically you start like it's brand new."
For the most part, playing linebacker is new to Orakpo.
Listed at 6 feet 4 and 260 pounds, Orakpo was among the nation's premiere pass rushers last season for the Longhorns. His unique blend of size, speed (he was consistently clocked in the 4.70-second range in the 40-yard dash at pre-draft workouts) and quickness elevated Orakpo to a top-15 pick.
The release of veteran strong-side, or SAM, linebacker Marcus Washington in February opened a hole in the Skins' linebacker corps. Washington had been injured and ineffective for most of the last two seasons with the team, but he was the only proven player at his position on the roster.
From scouting Orakpo and evaluating him at the combine, the Skins were convinced that he could fill Washington's former role. But Orakpo estimated he was involved in coverage on only about 15 percent of his total reps in college, so he knew he would need help.
"Basically starting from scratch, trying to do the best I can as far as [the] positions they gave me," Orakpo said. "When I'm lined up at SAM backer, I just got to get different keys, different reads, and put [in] a different mentality. And at defensive end, when it's time to rush, it's time to rush and get after it."
Orakpo also works with defensive line coach John Palermo, but sessions with Olivadotti have occupied most of his time. For Orakpo right now, it's all about his eyes, Olivadotti said.
"His eyes are going to be totally different," said Olivadotti, beginning his third season as linebackers coach and 10th on the staff. "These guys that have played linebacker have had expanded vision. His eyes are what you have to work on the most: This is what you look at and this is what it means. His eyes, and a defensive lineman's eyes in general, you have to re-teach them what to look at. When he's in space, what's he looking at?
The movement part of it, that's why we have him at linebacker.
"We thought the movement part of things was going to be something that he could do. He can move the way that we want him to move. Now, he just has to look at it and it's different. ..... He had six inches between him and the first guy he had to hit. Now, he has four or five yards. The approach footwork, the footwork once you're there, how you want to hit the guy, those are things that are inherent to playing linebacker that are new to him."
Orakpo expressed optimism about making a smooth transition.
"When I put my hand in the dirt, just do what I do best," he said. "You know [at] linebacker you have different keys, different reads, so I have to switch my whole mindset when I'm playing the two different positions.
"Defensive end is just straight down, make a play. Linebacker, you have to think a little bit more, and that's the difficulty about it. But so far, I'm getting better and better each and every day."