The Washington Redskins drafted Ryan Kerrigan 16th overall with the expectation that he could make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker and pair with Brian Orakpo to form a dominant pass-rushing tandem.
So when Kerrigan and Orakpo met for the first time Tuesday — the first day of a three-day informal minicamp organized by the players — the rookie wasted little time picking the third-year veteran’s brain.
Like Kerrigan (6 feet 4, 267 pounds), the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Orakpo was a standout defensive end for his college, the University of Texas. As a rookie in 2009, he made a fairly seamless transition to linebacker. In two seasons, Orakpo has tallied 19.5 sacks (11 as a rookie, 8.5 last season) and back-to-back Pro Bowl selections, despite the necessity of significantly changing his technique and approach.
Kerrigan, who in four seasons at Purdue University had 33 sacks, hopes to make a similar impact in his rookie season. But Orakpo has words of caution for him.
“I told him it’s going to be tough,” Orakpo said. “It’s going to be frustrating, difficult. I had my times when I was frustrated and wanted to put my hand in the dirt and go. But some things he’s going to have to learn. It’s the 3-4, it’s a very challenging defense, a lot of terminology, a lot of lingo that goes with it.
“. . . I played the same position [as Kerrigan] in college. You’re so used to going north and south, you’re really not turning your hips, you’re really not in coverages and worrying about receiver sets and formations and all that goes with it. But he’s willing to learn and ready to make the transition at a high level.”
Kerrigan called having Orakpo on hand this week a bonus, because Kerrigan must start to learn the defense without the coaches. Last month, Orakpo did not attend the workouts; inside linebacker London Fletcher and outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander showed Kerrigan the ropes.
Orakpo is “definitely a big resource because he made the same transition that I’m making right now. So I’m definitely picking his brain about the new position,” said Kerrigan, who has spent the majority of this offseason training on his own at Purdue. Orakpo “just told me the biggest adjustment is coming out of the two-point stance and learning how to be explosive. We’re used to coming out of a three-point stance.”
Kerrigan has been praised for his energy and relentless pursuit of quarterbacks. That will help him in the NFL, but the trick will be maintaining that effectiveness while learning new techniques and responsibilities.
Alexander said he noticed improvement in Kerrigan this week, though Tuesday and Wednesday marked only his fourth and fifth practices in the defense.
“We didn’t have to coach him nearly as much as we did the first time,” Alexander said. “So obviously, he’s starting to grasp some of the things that we do. He’s going to start playing faster, and once we get into training camp, some of this stuff is going to come as second nature.”
If that happens, Kerrigan could help significantly upgrade a defense that last season ranked 31st in the league, and please the often-double-teamed Orakpo.
“To have that other dominant side whenever he’s able to put everything together takes a lot off my shoulders,” Orakpo said. “Obviously, the pressure’s there and to have two bulldogs going at it, it’s going to be hell.”