The transition from the college game to the pros can be a daunting task for any unseasoned rookie. Despite the pressures of the media spotlight, one young man appears to be embracing his new role in the professional arena.
After completing his first month of OTAs (Organized Team Activities) Brian Orakpo has quickly learned to think on his feet. Hard work and remembering to stay mentally focused will lead to success in his mind.
Orakpo has been asked by second-year coach Jim Zorn to put in time at strong-side linebacker. He will also be called upon to line up at his natural position of defensive end on passing downs. Zorn was emphatic about this point in a post-draft interview on April 27.
“We expect Brian to earn a lot of playing time on first down and second down from the linebacker slot,” said Zorn. “However, he most certainly will get a chance to show his athleticism as a pass rusher when the situation presents itself.
"It all depends on how he masters the playbook… learns the schemes his coaches want him to learn.”
He finished his stellar senior season at UT with 11 ½ sacks and 40 total tackles, while playing primarily from the defensive end position. Scouts have said his best physical characteristics are his quick feet and relentless pursuit of the play.
These are intangibles that can be polished, but not taught.
For his part, Orakpo intends to show Zorn and Co. that he has the drive to excel on the field at both key positions.
“I’m feeling the difference, but it is still football,” said Orakpo. “If you know what you’re doing you can play fast. If you don’t that’s when you kind of get left behind. But what I try to do is go in and know what I’m doing, study my playbook, study the plays that we put in that day and try to play fast.”
The Redskins might not have the luxury of taking their time with getting Orakpo acclimated to this level, because of the departure of long-time outside linebacker Marcus Washington.
Washington was also a well-received locker room motivator.
Leading tackler and current middle linebacker London Fletcher is getting older (34) and his best years could be behind him. Rocky McIntosh is still recovering from a major knee injury suffered two seasons ago.
McIntosh and Orakpo are going to be heavily scrutinized as the Redskins look to improve on a dismal 2007-2008 season, where they managed to give up 18.8 points per game. Last year’s defense also relinquished an average of 295 yards per game.
The other three starting quarterbacks in the NFC East must fear the defense when they line up under center. Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and Donovan McNabb are excellent at checking down to their second or third option. McNabb is still a threat to run. It is imperative that the Redskins exploit the opposing team’s vulnerabilities in pass blocking.
Stats don’t lie. Washington has missed the playoffs three times in five seasons.
It will take a little bit of luck, the ability to stay healthy, and a consistent balance of scoring and defensive pressure for the Skins’ to end their lack of solid team play.
Jim Zorn is on a short leash in DC. A young talent like Orakpo just might be the player that defines his legacy for better or for worse.
Several starters did not attend minicamp for undisclosed reasons.
Notable names missing in action were RG Randy Thomas, MLB London Fletcher, and CB Carlos Rogers.
Thomas has missed most of the last two seasons with a torn pectoral muscle and a severe neck injury.