By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 9, 2009
After the Washington Redskins' intrasquad scrimmage, the burgundy-clad camera-phone paparazzi gathered off in one corner of a practice field, hurling rapid-fire questions and accolades at the 22-year-old tower of muscle.
"Romo'd better watch out!" one fan yelled.
"No way McNabb will be able to get by you," said another.
"How many sacks you think you'll get this year?"
"I don't know," Brian Orakpo said with a chuckle. "Not a big numbers guy."
After a successful scrimmage for Orakpo and the defense, fans at Redskins Park flocked to the rookie defensive end-linebacker to snap photos and wave their Sharpies. Orakpo signed footballs, jerseys, scraps of paper, babies and even one woman's checkbook.
Fans' excitement about the Redskins' first-round draft pick was only buoyed by his performance at Saturday's scrimmage. Conversely, however, their questions about the team's offense -- specifically, its suspect offensive line -- burn hot as ever just four days before the team's preseason opener at Baltimore.
Coach Jim Zorn seemed pleased with his team's effort after the 62-play scrimmage, but the fans in attendance hardly got a full look at the 2009 Redskins. On offense, only six of the 11 starters saw action Saturday, and by the end of the scrimmage, the Redskins had nearly run out of right tackles. Stephon Heyer, the front-runner to start Week 1, and Mike Williams skipped the scrimmage because of nagging pains, and Jeremy Bridges and fourth-stringer Scott Burley both suffered minor injuries Saturday.
Quarterback Jason Campbell says no matter how minor, injuries hurt because they keep the offense from practicing as a group. Also missing from action Saturday on offense was running back Clinton Portis, guard Randy Thomas, tight end Chris Cooley and wide receiver Santana Moss. In fact, with second-year wideouts Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly both nursing sore hamstrings on the sideline, Antwaan Randle El was the only one of the team's top four receivers to play.
"A lot of things we do are based on timing and also communication," Campbell said. "So as quickly as we can get guys back healthy and into the huddle, the better we'll be because everyone will be on the same page. You have to practice together in order to reach that certain rhythm."
Campbell found his own comfortable cadence early in Saturday's scrimmage. Starting at the 35-yard line, he marched the offense into the red zone. But as they did more than 50 percent of the time last year -- better than only three other teams -- they failed to find the end zone, the day's initial drive dying at the 2-yard line.
For the day, Campbell was 8 of 12 for 60 yards. He had a short touchdown pass to Trent Shelton during red-zone drills, and was intercepted by cornerback Justin Tryon.
"They coach us to do well each and every play," said Tryon, who was called for a pass interference infraction shortly after his pick. "It feels good to make a play here and there. Most definitely."
On that interception, Bridges, playing in Heyer's place with the first-team, fell into a pile of bodies near the line of scrimmage. He said he rolled his right ankle and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on a water cooler.
"We were doing great," said Bridges, who said his ankle sprain was minor. "I was so frustrated that it happened because I wanted to continue the scrimmage. It was a chance for me to really show what I can do."
Offensive line coach Joe Bugel was similarly frustrated that he has more linemen on the daily injury report than he does in the huddle. Bugel said he hopes that Heyer and Williams could return to practice on Sunday.
"We're slowly getting guys back," he said. "We got to start building. Preseason will be here and gone, and then before you know it, the bullets are flying in the regular season."
With Portis watching on the sideline, Marcus Mason led all rushers with four carries and 14 yards, and Rock Cartwright had 11 yards on four carries. The team's leading receiver was Marko Mitchell, who had 32 yards on three receptions.
The first-team offense didn't square off against the brunt of the Redskins' defense. Campbell and Co. had only the second-team defense to deal with, while the first-team defense was able to feast mostly on the Redskins' second-team offense. After the scrimmage, Zorn said he is comfortable with the offense's knowledge of the system but hopes to see continued improvement, particularly in pass protection.
On the defensive side, there were plenty of positives. Even though starters Albert Haynesworth, the team's pricey defensive tackle, and cornerback Carlos Rogers spent the scrimmage on the sideline, Zorn liked what he saw defensively Saturday, particularly from Orakpo.
Drafted as a defensive end, the Redskins are trying to mold Orakpo into a strong-side linebacker. He saw plenty of snaps at both positions on Saturday, and Zorn was eager to challenge him. Several times when Orakpo was lined up at linebacker, Zorn called for a running play -- aimed right at his prized draft pick.
"We didn't get many yards when we ran at him. He stood his ground," Zorn said. "He's got some things to learn. I think I got him one time on play-action. We want to give him those types of repetitions so that he could learn. I'm very pleased with what he did."
Orakpo seemed pleased, too, though he knows he can't read too much into one scrimmage.
"I can't be satisfied with just one day. We have a lot more to improve on," he said. "I know I have a lot more to do to make my game excel to the next level. But I'm really excited about what we're accomplishing."
Following the scrimmage, players met with fans and signed autographs. Orakpo was one of the more popular targets. The crowd around him was four or five fans deep.
"We got the rookie of the year right here!" one shouted.
"Looks like had two sacks out there today!" said another.
"Good to see you in D.C.!"
He responded to most with a smile and a thank-you. But one, he offered a polite response. "What do you think about switching from defensive end to linebacker?" a fan inquired.
"I like it," Orakpo said. "Can't wait to show y'all what I can do."