Brian Orakpo has the Lombardi, Nagurski and Hendricks trophies on his shelf. He has the All-American acclaim and the status of a first-round draft pick. And the rookie from Texas seems destined to start at strongside linebacker for the Washington Redskins this fall.
During last weekend’s minicamp, coach Jim Zorn said he envisions Orakpo manning that spot instead of defensive end, the position he played in college. Executive vice president Vinny Cerrato said before the draft that the 13th overall selection would be considered a starter.
So given that the Redskins targeted Orakpo for months and that left defensive end Phillip Daniels seems fully recovered from last year’s knee injury, Orakpo figures to replace departed five-year starter Marcus Washington on the strong side.
Holdovers H.B. Blades and Chris Wilson aren’t ceding the job to the newcomer, however, no matter how talented he is or how wealthy he soon will be.
“A first-round guy… [he’s] going to play right away,” said Blades, who started five games last season. “With the amount of money the organization invests in a first-round pick, he’s gotta play. [But] I don’t think they drafted him because I was a liability. They drafted him because he was the best player on the board. There’s always opportunity. I go in every day like I’m going to prove to these coaches that I belong on the field.”
Wilson, who made the Redskins in 2007 after two years in the Canadian Football League, is trying to prove he belongs at a new position. He switched from end to the strong side after Washington was released and ends Daniels and Renaldo Wynn re-signed.
“Orakpo, he’s a good player - you can see that already,” said Wilson, who had five sacks in limited duty on passing downs the past two seasons. “He’s a draft pick, and as things go he’s going to play, but at the same time I still think there’s an opportunity for me to play more, especially on first and second down.”
Perhaps. Orakpo figures to line up at end on obvious passing downs, but Wilson is about as green as the rookie at linebacker. And the Redskins went 1-4 in Blades’ five starts and 7-4 otherwise.
“H.B. played a lot for us a year ago and played pretty well,” linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. “H.B. is always going to know what to do and do it in a physical fashion. Is it perfect? Maybe not, but I’ll take the smart, tough guy every time.”
But at 5-foot-10, Blades’ size could be a major negative when the Redskins face big tight ends.
“I know I’m short,” Blades said. “That’s what I’ve heard my whole life: I’m not tall enough, I’m not fast enough. But I am a football player.”
Blades is also a career linebacker who has played all three spots. Wilson, meanwhile, revels in his switch from end despite a serious learning curve.
“It’s a work in progress,” Wilson said. “I’m not like a fish out of water, but I ain’t swimming that well. Each day I’m learning more things to help me out techniquewise. I can just let everything develop before I react as opposed to being a lineman and as soon as the ball is snapped, it’s time to go. I think I’m falling in love with a new position. I like the running and looking at the whole game from a wider aspect, understanding where everybody fits as opposed to [just] understanding your gap control.”
Unfortunately for Wilson and Blades, Olivadotti said Orakpo did well during minicamp as he began to make the transition to playing in space, understanding where his help is in zone coverage and everything else that comes with playing outside linebacker.
Unless there are struggles at left end, the Redskins figure to go with Orakpo on the strong side no matter what Blades and Wilson do.