- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 10, 2010

ASHBURN, Va. | Brian Orakpo spent his bye week break in Aruba, joining Washington Redskins veterans DeAngelo Hall, Carlos Rogers and recent player-turned-coaching intern Chris Samuels for relaxation on the beach.

“We knew the whole Donovan story was going to be crazy, so we just wanted to get away,” Orakpo said. “We don’t talk football when we’re on the water.”

Had coach Mike Shanahan not pulled Donovan McNabb late in the Detroit game before the bye — and had the offense as a whole not performed so poorly in recent weeks — the craziness about the quarterback might have been replaced by kudos about the defense’s performance over the first half of the season. The Redskins already have 19 takeaways, safety LaRon Landry is among the league leaders in tackles, and defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth has finally settled into a productive role.

And then there’s Orakpo, who is showing no signs of a sophomore slump.

The 2009 No. 13 overall pick from Texas, whose 11 sacks earned him a Pro Bowl spot last season, has tallied seven at the halfway point this year — even though he’s no longer able to sneak up on anybody.

“This season has been somewhat different,” Orakpo said Wednesday as the Redskins (4-4) prepared for Monday night’s NFC East game against the Philadelphia Eagles. “Last year I was getting my feet wet, a rookie. They didn’t really mind me too much. Obviously we had Haynesworth, Andre Carter, and I was a new guy, so they left me one-on-one a lot and I took advantage of that.

“This year it’s different because they count me as a career guy, and I see a lot more double-teams, I see a lot more chips, slide protections, holding calls — you name it. But that’s a compliment, because it feels like I’m obviously doing something right out there.”

Orakpo is excelling despite having to learning how to rush from a standing position instead of a three-point stance or four-point stance in the transition to full-time linebacker. This is where offseason work pays off — he would never been this far along if he hadn’t started practicing the team’s new 3-4 scheme back in March.

“The normal fan would not think that’s a big transition, but a lot of guys cannot do that,” Orakpo said. “Rushing out of a three-point, four-point stance, it’s a different movement than just being on two feet, to have that same velocity, that same explosiveness. It’s a craft that you have to work at doing.”

He’s right when he says not everyone can do it. The Redskins have given up on trying to play Carter at linebacker and have moved him back to defensive end.

Orakpo, though, loves his new spot.

“I don’t ever want to go back to the three-point stance again,” he said.

Teammates say Orakpo is a sponge, always learning and improving his technique. They envision the day when he’s the Ray Lewis-type of linebacker who can dominate a game by himself. Orakpo credits his two-sack performance at Chicago last month to some tips he received from former Redskins pass-rushing standout Charles Mann before the game.

“The thing about Rak, he’s in his second year, but you wouldn’t know it by talking to him, by watching the way he carries himself, by watching the way he works,” defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday said. “That’s the most impressive part. A guy coming in after a successful rookie year, going to the Pro Bowl, he could come in with a big head and maybe not work as hard. But he’s motivated, he’s determined, he wants to be consistently one of the better guys in this league. For a young guy to step up and sometimes take command of a huddle or want to express how he feels says a lot about the kind of guy he is.”

Orakpo’s next challenge is Michael Vick and the Eagles. A sack of the mobile Vick — now the starter in place of Kevin Kolb — would count just a bit more in his mind than some others.

“Very hard, very hard. That’s why I wish Kolb was playing — no, I’m just playing,” Orakpo said. “Kevin, he’s a good quarterback, but he doesn’t run as well as Vick. Vick is a dual-threat guy.”

 

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