Washington Redskins' new 3-4 defense will get stiffer test against Baltimore Ravens

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2010; 10:34 PM

Throughout his rookie season, Brian Orakpo always said the right thing. Regardless of the week or the circumstances, anyone who asked was told how satisfied Orakpo was with his role in the defense.

But the change that swept through Redskins Park in the offseason didn't miss Orakpo. He revealed that moving to linebacker and playing so much pass coverage in Greg Blache's defense wasn't always ideal.

"Obviously, I'm [a defensive] end. I was a D-end out of college and all I did was rush the passer. Coming to a new scheme, I'm gonna do what the coaches ask, but I wanted to rush the passer a little bit more," said Orakpo, who had 11 sacks in 2009, almost all from the defensive end spot.

He's still a linebacker this season, but he'll be rushing the quarterback a lot more - perhaps as much as three times more than a year ago, according to Jim Haslett, Washington's defensive coordinator.

The change in Orakpo's duties illustrates how coaches want the new-look 3-4 scheme to operate; in short, more aggressively, providing more pressure and creating more turnovers.

The team's first-string defense will get a welcome challenge Saturday night, when the Baltimore Ravens travel down Interstate 95 to visit the Redskins. The Ravens bring a formidable offense that will provide a good measuring stick for Washington coaches.

Last week's preseason opponent, the Buffalo Bills, fielded the league's 30th-ranked offense in 2009. By comparison, the Ravens had the 13th-best offense in the NFL a season ago and the league's fifth-ranked running game.

"Most definitely, it's a way better challenge," said cornerback Carlos Rogers. "We're still kind of vanilla with our calls, but the wide receivers and things we got to [cover], we got a challenge outside, along with the linemen and linebackers. They got a powerful run game. . . . So it's going to be a test just coming out there playing on pure strength and natural ability."

The Redskins are expected to give their starting defensive players about 30 snaps, which will be a much heavier workload than they had in the first preseason game. It should keep the starters on the field into the second quarter. Not surprisingly, the only question among the top defensive players concerns lineman Albert Haynesworth, who's still lining up with the second unit.

Haynesworth missed the team's final three full practices of training camp this week with an illness. Coach Mike Shanahan had a different explanation each day, and on Thursday said it was a headache that kept Haynesworth from practicing.

But team sources say Haynesworth felt better on Friday and would be ready to play against the Ravens.

Though he missed 13 of the team's 18 full practice sessions in training camp, Haynesworth has mostly lined up as the second-string nose tackle. He took snaps as a first-string defensive tackle in nickel situations. Against the Ravens, he is also expected to play at right defensive end.

Haynesworth said following the Bills game that he has learned to appreciate Haslett's 3-4 defense, and it didn't take too long to pick up.

While the Redskins' offensive players note that they're still adjusting to their scheme, several defensive players say they've felt comfortable with Haslett's 3-4 since the team's final minicamp in June. Players reported for training camp on July 29 and defensive players have been fine-tuning their technique and honing their understanding of their new assignments.

Defensive end Phillip Daniels said the group would be ready if Saturday's game was actually Week 1 of the regular season, but he acknowledged that there's still some value to a mostly-forgettable preseason game.

"Some things we're still probably confused on here or there," Daniels said, "but for the most part, I think guys are comfortable."

While coaches are happy with the progress the defense has made, defensive end Kedric Golston said it's all still a "work in progress."

"No matter where we're at, we've still got to come out here and continue to get better each and every day," he said. "We're still young and in the infancy process of this defense."

Buffalo tallied only 293 yards and committed three turnovers against a defensive approach that Redskins players described as "vanilla." Haslett said he's not planning to pull any more tricks out of his pocket for the Ravens. Even though Baltimore's offense might pose a better challenge, the Redskins' focus is still on their scheme and their assignments, not Baltimore's personnel and playbook. For the defense, game-planning for preseason foes is minimal.

"We get a sheet of what they do and an overall view of what they do," Rogers said, "but it's really not broken down [where] every day we go in and watch film on them and break it down like we usually do on a true game week."

And while coaches won't lose sleep over the final score, they're eager to see the defense's aggressive attitude during training camp translate into game situations.

"We all understand Baltimore has a heck of a football team coming back with some great acquisitions," Shanahan said. "We also know this is the second preseason game and we're evaluating some players."

Staff writer Paul Tenorio contributed to this report.

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