Orakpo Impresses; Redskins' Secondary Has Room to Improve

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 14, 2009

BALTIMORE, Aug. 13 -- Despite the final score and the final statistics, Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache did not look like a man who was worried.

Though his team had lost, 23-0, and his defense had given up 500 yards, Blache said he got what he wanted out of the team's first preseason game. Even before looking at film, he could tell, "some guys rose, some guys sunk."

"I wanted the young kids to go in and play and see who could do what," Blache said following Thursday night's loss to the Ravens. "In the preseason, if I go in and worry about calling the game and not worry about finding out who people are, I'm wasting the preseason. We wanted to see how guys responded to things."

A preseason battle between two of the league's toughest defenses resulted in a shutout for one team and perhaps a few more question marks for the other. While the night marked for the game action for the Redskins' first-round draft pick Brian Orakpo, it also highlighted some depth concerns in the secondary.

Last season, the Redskins finished with the fourth-best defense in the league, allowing 288.8 yards per game. By halftime Thursday, they had given up 258.

"Now it's no knock on them, but we see the best defense every day in practice," said Ravens running back Ray Rice. "It would be like a slap in the face to our defense if we didn't come out here and move the ball."

Most of the Redskins' first-string defensive players were on the field for just one Ravens drive. Cornerback Fred Smoot, who was starting in place of Carlos Rogers, and Orakpo returned for a second series. Though Smoot soon found himself on the sideline, Orakpo played the entire first half.

"I thought he had exceptional speed," Coach Jim Zorn said of his prized rookie. "I thought he played hard. I liked what I saw. I think we got a player there."

The Redskins started Orakpo at linebacker, but he looked more comfortable much of the night when lined up at defensive end, the position that brought him awards and accolades at the University of Texas.

In the final minute of the half, Orakpo breezed by the line and drove through backup quarterback Troy Smith just as he released the ball. It was an incomplete pass, and Orakpo's numbers didn't change on the play -- in fact, he finished the game with just one tackle -- but he showed his impact.

"Linebacker I can continue to improve," Orakpo said. "Reading stuff a lot faster, flying around a lot faster, instead of trying to think too much."

As a team, the Redskins had just one sack and failed to force a turnover. While the defensive line played strong, pressure on the Ravens quarterbacks was spotty. "I didn't have to do anything but sit in the pocket and make the throws," said Ravens starter Joe Flacco.

Albert Haynesworth, the Redskins' $100 million defensive tackle, was the team's biggest free agent acquisition, but he was listed as a healthy scratch and did not play. It was actually Rogers, though, who may have been missed most. The Redskins' biggest problems defensively were in the secondary, where corners were losing their receivers and biting on quarterback pumps.

In fact, the Ravens can thank the Redskins' defensive backs for both of their touchdowns.

In the second quarter, rookie cornerback Kevin Barnes was fooled by Smith's double-pump. Smith hit a wide open Justin Harper for a 19-yard touchdown. And then in the fourth, safety Michael Grant gambled on a pass from Ravens third-string quarterback John Beck. Grant missed the interception, though, and after Jayson Foster caught the ball, the Ravens rookie got to the Redskins 7 to complete a 64-yard play. On the next play, Cedric Peerman ran for the touchdown.

Last season, the Redskins had the league's seventh-best pass defense, giving up an average of 193.4 yards per game. But Thursday night, all three Baltimore quarterbacks threw for more than 100 yards, and the Ravens totaled 399 yards through the air.

One of the biggest disappointments in the secondary had to be cornerback Justin Tryon. Touted as the team's possible answer in nickel situations, the second-year Tryon was beat badly on at least three occasions for first downs. He finished the game tied for the team-high five tackles, but tackling opponents from behind isn't what Blache wants out of his cornerbacks.

"I can tell right when the play is over whether I played it right or wrong," Tryon said. "There were a couple times tonight that I was wrong, couple times I should've been lined up on the inside. So now you know for next time."

The defense did appear to escape its first preseason game without any major injuries. Defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander left the game late in the first quarter with an abdominal strain and did not return. Later, cornerback Doug Dutch (Gonzaga High) left the game with a sore hamstring.

Perhaps the biggest bright spot defensively was the team's play in the red zone. The Ravens converted only 2 of 6 tries inside the 20-yard line and had to settle for a field goal on their only attempt against the first-team defense.

"We were on the goal line, and that's when it counts," said cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who knocked down a third-down pass in the end zone. "We are trying to be the No. 1 defense, and it's no secret. We know we have to step it up, especially down there on the goal line."

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