- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009

Conventional wisdom plus a little luck produced a player the Washington Redskins hope can instantly upgrade their dormant pass rush.

During Saturday’s first day of the NFL Draft, the Redskins’ pursuit of Southern Cal quarterback Mark Sanchez never gained traction because of a lack of assets. But staying put paid off when they selected Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo with the 13th pick.

The Redskins took less than three minutes to turn in the selection, marking the first time in 11 years they used a first-round choice on a defensive lineman.

“Sometimes you have to be lucky in the draft and a guy you really covet falls to you,” said Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins’ executive vice president of football operations. “I tried for an hour to move up for the guy. Nobody would do it, and he fell to us.”

With their only pick of the day, the Redskins addressed their pass rush, kept their 2010 draft cupboard full and ensured Jason Campbell would not have competition at the starting quarterback position. The Redskins have picks in Rounds 3, 5, 6 and 7; they also need to figure out who the starting strongside linebacker is and begin acquiring potential starters for the offensive line.

But Cerrato and coach Jim Zorn were pleased that they filled the pass-rushing need with the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Orakpo. Orakpo felt the same way.

“I met with a lot of other teams, but with the Washington Redskins, I just had a vibe,” he said. “The coaching staff, the owner, the team - everything was just so great. I told them I would be very excited to have the opportunity to play for them.”

Said Cerrato: “I was shocked that he fell.”

Orakpo wouldn’t have been the Redskins’ choice had Cerrato and owner Dan Snyder been able to move up enough to select Sanchez, whom Snyder grew infatuated with during the pre-draft process.

Cerrato acknowledged a pursuit of Sanchez, who went fifth to the New York Jets. The Jets traded their first- and second-round picks and three players to Cleveland to move up. The Redskins didn’t have a second-round pick and nowhere near the young and inexpensive players attractive to Browns coach Eric Mangini, who coached the Jets the previous three years.

The Redskins are 0-for-2 this offseason in replacing Campbell; Denver traded Jay Cutler to Chicago. Snyder was unwilling to deal the team’s 2010 first-round pick for Cutler or Sanchez.

“We made a couple of calls, but it was too expensive,” Cerrato said.

Added Zorn: “There were talks all the time. We’re talking all over the draft board and all over our draft slots. There were several calls, but it has to be right, and in these situations it just wasn’t the right choice or the right situation for us to do anything.”

It’s now Zorn’s job to soothe any sore feelings Campbell may have with the organization. Campbell did not return a text message seeking comment.

“Things were a little bit of a roller coaster with the whole situation through the media and through real and unreal situations with Cutler and the stuff about Mark Sanchez,” Zorn said. “I just feel… we stayed true to what we were planning and didn’t try to ride it with everybody else.”

The Redskins stayed put, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. They had Orakpo ranked in the top five on their draft board and started thinking he might fall to them when Cleveland (which would have selected Orakpo or Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji) traded out of its slot.

As soon as the Jets took Sanchez, Cerrato began calling teams in front of the Redskins about trading up but found no takers.

“Everybody wanted to make their pick,” he said. “I called Denver and said, ‘You want to flip-flop?’ They said, ‘You’re going to get your guy.’ ”

The Broncos took Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno.

Orakpo, who last year bumped his sack total from 5.5 to 11.5 for the Longhorns, is expected to contribute right away at left defensive end in a rotation with veterans Phillip Daniels and Renaldo Wynn. Zorn said Andre Carter will remain on the right side.

Only three teams had fewer than the Redskins’ 24 sacks in 2008. Carter is the only returning player who had more than two sacks last season.

“I know I’ll have to come in and work hard and earn the respect of my teammates,” said Orakpo, who attended the draft in New York and is slated to be introduced at Redskin Park on Monday. “I set high expectations for myself every time I step on the field, so I’m very confident I can [contribute].”

Orakpo missed part of his junior year with a knee injury but rebounded last season to make 40 tackles, including 17.5 behind the line of scrimmage. In addition to his sacks, he had 15 quarterback pressures.

“The thing that I liked is his ability to get around the edge very quickly on a tackle,” Zorn said. “If you’re a slow-footed tackle, you’re going to be reaching for this guy because of his initial explosion. He has great acceleration, and I think that’s going to show up very quickly.”

Orakpo concentrated on rushing the passer in college, but he’ll need to play the run in the NFC East.

“[Stopping the run] wasn’t his forte,” Zorn said. “That is something we’ll be working on.”

Added Orakpo: “I have to stop the run, obviously. That’s something I know I have to work on. I know I can’t just pull the trigger and try to get after the quarterback too much. I have to settle down and play the run first.”

The Redskins chose to address the pass-rushing need over their need for a young offensive tackle. Mississippi’s Michael Oher, a possible target, went No. 23 to Baltimore.

During last year’s draft, the Redskins found a starter (safety Chris Horton) on Day 2. The top priority this time likely will be strongside linebacker. The in-house candidates to replace Marcus Washington are H.B. Blades, Robert Thomas, Alfred Fincher or pass-rush specialist Chris Wilson.

“There are players in every round; you just have to find them,” Cerrato said. “There are some players we like. I would like to add a couple more picks, and it’s not hard on the second day to back up in the fifth round and get another sixth.”

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