Redskins' Orakpo is open to change

May, 7, 2009
5/07/09
2:54
PM ET
 
  Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMI
  Brian Orakpo, drafted 13th overall by the Washington Redskins in April's draft, may split time between linebacker and defensive end this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

As an alum from a Big 12 South school, the departure of University of Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo is something I've been anticipating for years. He played a reserve role on Texas' national title team and by the time he finished his career, he was the best defensive end in the country. He's got Lombardi (best lineman), Hendricks (DE) and Nagurski (best defensive player) to show for his senior season in which he made 19 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and recorded 11.5 sacks.

With that in mind, I'm trying to determine why the Redskins' first order of business was moving him to strongside linebacker. That's where Orakpo lined up during a full-roster minicamp last weekend. Perhaps the Redskins were simply testing Orakpo, and they will eventually return him to being an every-down defensive end. Otherwise I'm not sure why they drafted him.

Orakpo spent the last four years playing with one hand in the dirt. From his rush-end position at Texas, he could line up on the outside shoulder of a left tackle and use his power and speed to hunt down quarterbacks. Playing the "SAM" linebacker position for the Redskins, he'd have to go through run/pass keys on first and second down, which doesn't exactly set you up for sacks.

Longtime scouts have told me that Orakpo could line up next to defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and "fall into" several sacks per season. Haynesworth demands so much attention that Orakpo would have success similar to what Kyle Vanden Bosch had for the Titans. But for now, the Redskins have indicated that Orakpo will line up at defensive end on third downs and obvious passing situations.

So the Redskins finally take a defensive lineman on the first day of the draft -- and they're moving him to linebacker? It doesn't make any sense, but then, neither does freaking out over something in early May. (Would you expect anything less?)

 
  AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
  Brian Orakpo notched 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss for the Longhorns last season.

To Orakpo's credit, he's embracing the role. He played for the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the nation at Texas in Will Muschamp, a man who preaches versatility. I've seen Orakpo drop back in coverage, and he certainly doesn't look lost. But he's about to start lining up over tight ends such as Jason Witten and Kevin Boss -- at times. And he'll have to learn how to play with his hands more at the SAM position.

After conducting somewhere in the neighborhood of 23 interviews and posing for pictures, Orakpo visited  with the Beast on Sunday. He was particularly excited about the time he spent with Haynesworth.

"My first reaction to meeting him was, 'Wow, this guy's huge,' said Orakpo. "It's impossible to block him one-on-one. With me and Haynesworth, it's going to be a great defensive line. We were doing our stunts together, and I think we'll have a lot in store for people."

It sounds as if Orakpo still thinks his primary position will be defensive end. That's the way he's listed on the team's roster right now. He said it was a "different feeling" lining up at linebacker throughout last weekend's minicamp.

"The good thing is it's a feeling I can be comfortable with," said Orakpo. "I'm not going to have a set position, so I'll be able to use my versatility as sort of a hybrid player. The biggest adjustment is all the different routes you're going to see. You don't want to look like you're a defensive end when you're covering guys. At defensive end, all we know is to get in a stance and rush the quarterback. At linebacker, you have to play the run and pass at the same time."

Precisely the point that I attempted to make earlier in this column. The good thing for the Redskins is that Orakpo's a self-starter. He has maxed out on the bench press at 515 pounds and Texas strength and conditioning coach Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden used to chase him out of the weight room. In college, he took it upon himself to study pass-rushers such as Osi Umenyiora, Jason Taylor and DeMarcus Ware. He also won't have a steep learning curve when it comes to hating the Dallas Cowboys. Orakpo grew up a huge Oilers fan in Houston and still has a "Luv ya blue" jacket somewhere in his boyhood home.

  Redskins introduce Orakpo
  NFL.com Video
  Brian Orakpo talks about what it means to be a member of the Washington Redskins.

"Dallas and Houston have always competed to see who has the best city," he said. "So I've never enjoyed the Cowboys."

Orakpo played against some of the best offensive tackles in the nation during his time in the Big 12, but there's one that he never faced. Former Baylor left tackle Jason Smith missed the 2007 Texas game with an injury and Orakpo had the same thing happen to him in '08. Smith went No. 2 overall to the St. Louis Rams, who will play the Redskins in Week 2.

"He was a tight end when we were starting our careers," said Orakpo. "And I've been waiting to square off for a long time. I definitely have that date circled on my calendar."

Smith told me recently that Orakpo was "hand
s-down the best defensive end in the country." But in the Redskins' scheme, it might be a part-time matchup. And in my mind, that would be a real shame.

The Redskins just lucked into perhaps the best pass-rusher in the draft. I, for one, would like to see what that looks like.

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