Brian Orakpo is not used to the grind of an NFL season, and he certainly isn’t accustomed to playing the spot he now occupies on the Washington Redskins’ defense.
Orakpo, a consensus All-America end at Texas, has yet to make a huge impact, ranking only eighth on the defense with 15 tackles.
But the 23-year-old strongside linebacker is, however, increasingly exhibiting the natural gifts that made him the 13th choice in April’s draft.
The Kansas City Chiefs can vouch for that. The Chiefs, who face the Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field, considered selecting Orakpo with the third overall pick of the draft and appreciate what they see of him now.
“We really liked him,” Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. “I was a little shocked that they were going to play him at linebacker. You could tell early on he wasn’t really comfortable, but he got more and more comfortable as you see the season progress. He looks like he’s going to be a very good player in this league for a long time.”
That’s what the Redskins expect.
Orakpo soon could be one of the senior members of a defense on which linebacker London Fletcher, tackle Cornelius Griffin and ends Phillip Daniels and Andre Carter are in their 30s and cornerback Carlos Rogers, linebacker Rocky McIntosh and safety Reed Doughty are due to become free agents after the season.
“Brian’s doing well,” linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. “He doesn’t make the same mistake twice. Everything’s not new now, so when he sees things a second and a third time he understands what’s happening. He’s done a very good job of playing faster. As opposed to looking where he needs to go first, he just goes.”
That wasn’t the case when the season began. Orakpo, who started throughout the preseason, was a little overwhelmed at first, recording just two tackles in the first game.
But by Week 2 of the regular season, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Orakpo was making his presence felt. He several times crashed in on Rams quarterback Marc Bulger to help thwart a late bid by St. Louis for an upset.
“The fourth quarter against St. Louis, when I was able to put pressure on the quarterback, that began it for me,” said Orakpo, who moves to end in most obvious passing situations. “I could sense a difference and was able to get more confidence about my play. I carried that over to the next week.”
Orakpo had four tackles and his first sack in a Week 3 loss to the Detroit Lions, seven tackles and a critical sack in a Week 4 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and two tackles and a half-sack last week.
Orakpo leads all NFL rookies with 2.5 sacks and trails Andre Carter, the Redskins’ leader in that department in each of the past three seasons, by only one.
“When Brian comes off the line of scrimmage, he’s low,” Carter said. “I’ve never seen an edge rusher come off so low. That makes him harder to block.”
As expected, pass coverage has been the biggest challenge for Orakpo, who rarely played in space at Texas. Last week, he was beaten by Panthers tight end Jeff King for a 17-yard touchdown that began Carolina’s comeback from a 17-2 second-half deficit.View Entire Story
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