Redskins Rookie Brian Orakpo Tackles Dual Role

Brian Orakpo has a sack in each of his past two games. "From Week 1 to this past game, it's just a vast improvement," the linebacker-defensive end said.
Brian Orakpo has a sack in each of his past two games. "From Week 1 to this past game, it's just a vast improvement," the linebacker-defensive end said. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 10, 2009

One day after his NFL debut, Brian Orakpo was at Redskins Park studying film of his team's season-opening loss to the New York Giants. He was shocked by what he saw. The footage was humbling, to say the least.

"I looked like a chicken with his head cut off," said Orakpo, the Washington Redskins rookie who is splitting time at strong-side linebacker and defensive end.

According to Orakpo, he went to linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti and said, "We got a lot of learning to do, don't we?"

Olivadotti agreed, but says since a slow start, his star pupil has made tremendous strides. The numbers bear that out, too. Orakpo had two tackles against the Giants and none a week later against St. Louis. In fact, Orakpo was the only defensive starter who didn't play a role in a single tackle against the Rams.

But Orakpo says compared with the first two games, his comfort level the past two weeks "is like night and day." Orakpo was credited with four tackles against Detroit and a season-high seven last week against Tampa Bay. He also notched a sack in each of the past two games, the first Redskins rookie since Andre Collins in 1990 to register a sack in consecutive games.

"From Week 1 to this past game, it's just a vast improvement," Orakpo said, "just being productive, being more active, making more plays for this defense."

According to the team's statistics, compiled from video review of the games, Orakpo is tied for ninth on the team with 15 tackles -- 11 of which are solo. Only Andre Carter and Albert Haynesworth have more than Orakpo's three quarterback hurries.

Drafted out of the University of Texas as a defensive end, coaches asked Orakpo to not only make the adjustment to the pace and speed of the NFL but to also learn a new position. While he got the basics down during offseason workouts and the preseason, it wasn't until the regular season started that Orakpo really began to understand the demands of the new position, which might help explain why his growth has accelerated.

"He's understanding how offenses are going to try to attack him, put him in situations where he may not be as comfortable, try to get him in space as much as possible," middle linebacker London Fletcher said. "He's continuing to learn. I think his explosiveness is improving each and every week, his suddenness is improving each and every week. And his hesitancy from not knowing what to do, that's going away each and every week."

During games, Orakpo plays linebacker about 75 percent of the time and lines up as a defensive end the other 25 percent. During practice, he typically spends Wednesdays working with the linebackers, Thursdays with the defensive linemen and Fridays shuttling back and forth.

"Right now I'm just really enjoying this new position, playing in space," Orakpo said. "A defensive end's dream is always to play in space and have an opportunity to do all kinds of stuff, so I get to do that and at the same time, I get to rush on third downs or different pass situations. So that gives me a lot of opportunities to make plays."

On Sundays thus far, Orakpo has looked more comfortable lining up at defensive end -- usually on third downs and pass-rush situations -- than he has dropping back in coverage or attacking the run as a linebacker.

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