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Rookie linebacker Brian Orakpo is Washington Redskins' lone Pro Bowler

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Washington Redskins linebacker-defensive end Brian Orakpo, a dynamic rookie who is perhaps the most obvious core piece of the franchise's future, was named Tuesday night to the Pro Bowl, the team's lone representative in the NFL's all-star game following a disappointing season in which most of their usual candidates ended up lost for the year with injuries.

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Neither middle linebacker London Fletcher, an annual snub despite remarkably consistent production, nor defensive end Andre Carter, enjoying his best season with Washington, were named to the NFC's squad. Orakpo's honor, though, emphasizes what the Redskins have believed internally since training camp: that he will be a key figure as the franchise moves forward into an offseason that seems certain to be marked by upheaval.

"At the end of the day, I'm not an individual guy," Orakpo said Tuesday night in a conference call with reporters. "I'm always a team-oriented type of guy. Team's first before any kind of accolades. . . . I was so disappointed about our season, but when you look back at it, the coaches and the fans and everyone really knew what I brought to the table every time I played. It really humbles me."

Orakpo, 23, was named to the NFC team as a reserve outside linebacker behind veterans DeMarcus Ware of Dallas and Lance Briggs of Chicago, tabbed as the starters in voting by fans, coaches and players. Orakpo is the only rookie on the NFC squad -- Houston linebacker Brian Cushing and Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd made the AFC team -- and is just the second Redskins rookie to make a Pro Bowl, joining Tony Green, who made the team as a kick returner following the 1978 season. He leads all rookies with 11 sacks, and with one game remaining in the season, has an outside chance of matching Jevon Kearse's rookie record of 14, set in 1999 with Tennessee.

Orakpo, selected 13th overall in the 2009 draft, was the final first-round choice of then-executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, who was replaced by Bruce Allen earlier this month. He played defensive end in college, but because at 6 feet 4, 260 pounds he seemed a bit undersized for that position, the Redskins moved him to outside linebacker in training camp.

"Making that transition, I wasn't too excited about it," Orakpo said. "I didn't want to let my teammates down, let the fans down, because I didn't know what to expect moving. . . . They really let me loose, just let me loose to be very active out there on the field."

Orakpo credited Fletcher, one of the defensive captains, with helping him make the transition, and the veteran's omission from the team hit Orakpo hard.

"I mean, I felt great when I got it," Orakpo said. "I still feel great about it. But when you look back at it, Fletcher, he's done so much for me, I'd trade spots with him anytime because of what he's done for me. . . . I'd trade my spot with him any day."

Fletcher, 34, is finishing up the 12th season of an NFL career some people thought would never happen. An undrafted free agent out of John Carroll, he leads the Redskins in tackles and has started all 15 games -- meaning he hasn't miss any of the 191 games in his career. Last year, when he wasn't named to the Pro Bowl after another stellar season, Fletcher likened himself to soap opera actress Susan Lucci, who was nominated for an Emmy 18 times before she finally won. He was beaten out by starter Patrick Willis of San Francisco and reserve Jonathan Vilma of New Orleans.

Fletcher later responded via Twitter: "Thanks 2 the fans, players, & coaches that voted 4 me. The guys who made it were very deserving. Congrats Rak, greatness is ahead of him."

Carter, 30, also has 11 sacks, his highest total in his four seasons with the Redskins and most since a career-best 12 1/2 in 2002. Three defensive ends were named to the NFC squad -- Jared Allen of Minnesota, Julius Peppers of Carolina and Trent Cole of Philadelphia.

Last year, the Redskins had four Pro Bowlers, all on offense -- tackle Chris Samuels, who made it for the sixth time; tight end Chris Cooley and running back Clinton Portis, both named for the second time; and fullback Mike Sellers, a first-timer. But none of that group had a true chance this time around. Samuels, Cooley and Portis are all on season-ending injured reserve, and Sellers has spent more time as a de facto tight end -- helping take Cooley's place as a blocker on the line -- than he has coming out of the backfield.


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