RICHMOND—Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo lined up over receiver Santana Moss in the slot on one play during team drills Monday afternoon. Moss ran a whip route—three hard steps slanting to the inside, a pivot, then a sprint out to the sideline.
When Orakpo became a full-time linebacker in 2010, his second NFL season, as part of the Redskins’ switch to a 3-4 front, he needed time to learn how to defend the pass. He was accustomed to rushing the passer as a defensive end in college. Playing in space against agile receivers was foreign.
On Monday, though, Orakpo mirrored Moss by backpedaling and sliding inside, then sprinted out when Moss pivoted. He stayed close to Moss’ back hip, and the quarterback threw elsewhere.
Orakpo’s fine coverage on the play, particularly because he was in space against the elusive Moss, is evidence of how much he has improved in that area.
“Just footwork, man, and kind of knowing route concepts instead of just reading the receiver,” he said. “Just kind of knowing what he’s capable doing on his option routes.”
The key to acquiring that knowledge?
“It comes from experience,” he said.
Pass coverage is an area in which Orakpo could have a greater impact.
He has yet to intercept a pass in 47 games since the Redskins switched to a 3-4. In contrast, Rob Jackson, who replaced Orakpo last season after Orakpo tore his left pectoral muscle in Week 2, had four last year.
Filling that play-making void is critical to Orakpo being considered an elite outside linebacker as he plays the final season of his contract.