The Washington Times - October 27, 2011, 09:00PM

Some notes, quotes and observations from Thursday at Redskins Park:

First, the injury report:

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CB DeAngelo Hall (hip), LT Trent Williams (right ankle) and FB Mike Sellers (back) did not practice. Sellers hurt himself doing a rowing exercise in the weight room before practice and was taken to the hospital.

ILB London Fletcher (hamstring) and QB Rex Grossman (pneumonia) were limited in practice after missing Wednesday’s session. Shanahan said Fletcher isn’t the type of player who would play if he knows he can’t be productive.

FS Oshiomogho Atogwe (knee) and CB Phillip Buchanon (neck/knee) also were limited.

RT Jammal Brown (hip), S Reed Doughty (chest), WR Donté Stallworth (hamstring) and CBs Byron Westbrook (hamstring) and Josh Wilson (hamstring) fully participated in practice.

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OLB Brian Orakpo’s sack of QB Cam Newton in Sunday’s loss to Carolina stood out more to me than any other play. Orakpo came unblocked and delivered a blowup hit, but he didn’t get the ball out. He wrapped Newton up instead of chopping down on the ball. This happened three days after defensive coordinator Jim Haslett talked to reporters about the need to force more turnovers. To me, it was a glaring missed opportunity.

Orakpo on Thursday fielded questions about the play, and, honestly, I was surprised by his answers.

“In my mindset, you want to get the guy down,” he said. “Most of the time, the hits that I have, one on [St. Louis QB Sam] Bradford, I was able to get my hands in and get the ball out. One on [Arizona QB Kevin] Kolb, just a big ol’ hit and the ball came out, which I was kind of having the same mindset when I was hitting Cam. But obviously he’s a bigger guy and was able to just really take it.”

Orakpo went on to say that he doesn’t have time to remind himself to hack down on the ball when he’s closing in on a sack. He’s so concerned with just getting the quarterback on the ground.

“Especially when you’re coming that open, that free, you just really want to get the guy down,” he said. “If you get a sack or so and then you’re able to get another one, that’s when you’re able to kind of realize, OK, I’m going to go for the ball this time. I don’t know. It’s kind of tricky, man. That’s why when the year is over you don’t see guys with double digit forced fumbles. It’s just something happens and you’ve got to keep playing your game and they will come out eventually.”

My feeling is that trying to strip the ball should be instinctive. But what do I know? Orakpo is a two-time Pro Bowler, so he’s doing something right. I was just surprised to hear him say he doesn’t make a conscious effort to strip quarterbacks when he sacks them.

Haslett, meanwhile, wants the ball out on plays like Orakpo’s sack of Newton.

“I know you want to secure the tackle on the big [quarterback], but any time you come free on the quarterback, you want to chop the ball if you can,” Haslett said. “He knows that.”

Another factor at work here: Orakpo is left-handed. In rushing the from the right side of the defense, he must chop with his right hand. That’s unnatural for him.

“The technique is not quite there yet,” he said. “As I progress it will get better. If I was coming on the left, this is easy all day.”

For the record, Orakpo has two forced fumbles and 4½ sacks this season.

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Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said he believes QB John Beck did “a good job” but also missed some opportunities to extend drives in Beck’s first start last Sunday.

Shanahan explained one of Beck’s reads that the FOX broadcasters criticized. Third-and-2 from the Panthers’ 13-yard line in the second quarter: an incompletion to WR Jabar Gaffney on a slant from the left on third-and-2. WR Anthony Armstrong was open on the right side of the field, but Beck didn’t see him.

 “You have a concept on two sides,” Shanahan said. “Pre-snap, you’ve got to pick the side that looks best, and you go off of percentages based off of one side compared to the other. He took the single safety concept—looking one way [to the left].

 “A lot of times, when a quarterback looks one way, you will see a lot of people open on the other side. A lot of people play with vision and watch the quarterback. Or if he looks the other way, a lot of people are driving on that route, so it can be a little deceiving.”

Beck said on Monday that he was comfortable with the decision he made on the play.

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TE Chris Cooley spoke for 16 minutes about topics ranging from his injury to his future to his career and overall place in the organization. He spoke from the heart, offering the insight he has acquired since the club drafted him out of Utah State in the third round in 2004. He was funny at times and deeply sincere at others. I highly recommend reading his remarks.

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In hindsight, Cooley believes he should have started the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. However, he insisted to coach Mike Shanahan in July that he was healthy enough to practice. Shanahan listened, and now Cooley is out for the year.

“To be honest, we probably should have went in that direction to start with, but we really thought Chris was feeling good, and he indicated to us that he felt like he’d be ready to go,” Shanahan said. “If you look back and you had a normal offseason, I think he would have been on the PUP list.”

Recall how last season Shanahan acknowledged he should have started WR Malcolm Kelly on the PUP list. But that was a different situation because Kelly knew his extensive injury history jeopardized his roster spot. Cooley was, in his own words, “stubborn.”

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Jim Haslett acknowledged that CB Kevin Barnes didn’t play “his best game” against Carolina. Barnes has taken over slot responsibilities this season with mixed results.

“He’s just a young guy that never played there,” Haslett said. “If he keeps working at it, he’ll get better and better as he goes. I like Kevin when he’s aggressive because he’s got long arms. He’s a big body [and] long. When he puts his hands on people, I think that’s when he’s most efficient. I don’t like him when he’s playing off so much or he’s playing in space because he’s got those long legs, and I think he’s better when he’s more aggressive.”

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Haslett said CB DeAngelo Hall did not switch sides of the field to cover Carolina WR Steve Smith because coaches wanted to simplify players’ responsibilities against the extensive variety of formations that Carolina uses.  

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The Redskins’ ran the ball often early in last Sunday’s game. It was a wise approach considering the team’s limitations in the passing game, and especially against a low-ranked run defense such as Carolina’s.

Kyle Shanahan said the strategy had nothing to do with easing QB John Beck into the game.

“That is how we do a lot of games,” he said. “You come out and you run the ball and we were moving the chains well. We were running the ball well and so you obviously stick with it. You know the opportunities we had, I thought [RB Tim] Hightower was doing a good job. I think we have done that in some other games, but I think you just see how the game goes and what it dictates.”

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Return specialist Brandon Banks hasn’t broken off a big return in several games. The slump, if you want to call it that, doesn’t just fall on Banks, though. He relies on 10 blockers in front of him.

The Redskins released several longtime special teams contributors, such as LBs Horatio Blades and Chris Wilson, before the season. Mike Shanahan, however, believes new faces on special teams aren’t why the big returns have been infrequent.

“We’ve got some good guys replacing them, some experienced guys who can run,” Shanahan said. “I think it is the new rules for kickoffs. Everybody sees a difference. You take the ball eight yards deep. You get it to the 20-yard line and it’s still the 20-yard line. Rules are a little bit different. The opportunity is a little bit different as well.”

What about punts?

“I think once you’ve proved you can return it, they’re going to be a little bit better in coverage,” he said. “They’re going to kick it a little bit higher, and you’re not going to get as many opportunities.”

Whatever the reasons are, the Redskins’ offense needs some help from the return game. It seems like every yard is a struggle, especially with so many guys injured, so field position and game-changing plays are critical.