- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

There was a moment during the Washington Redskins‘ players-only practice Tuesday when the next phase of the team’s defensive master plan started to materialize.

As John Beck dropped back to pass during 11-on-11 drills, Pro Bowl right outside linebacker Brian Orakpo beat his blocker and surged into the backfield. The same thing happened on the other side with rookie outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, the Redskins‘ first-round pick in April.

By the time Beck released the ball, Orakpo and Kerrigan were close enough to crunch his bones — if only that were allowed. It was the first glimpse, no matter how many asterisks were attached, of what Washington expects to be a dominant pass-rushing duo for years to come.

“I’m excited to actually have that dominant force on the other side,” Orakpo said. “Whenever he’s able to put everything together, it takes a lot off my shoulders, man. If we have two bulldogs going at it, it’s gonna be hell.”

These informal practices do not include pads, helmets or any sort of contact, really, so Orakpo and Kerrigan’s meeting at the quarterback was about as superficial as it gets. But this was the first time the Redskins‘ two defensive cornerstones had been together on any football field, so the informality of it all didn’t detract from the significance.

Kerrigan had not spoken to Orakpo before Tuesday’s 90-minute practice, which 31 players attended at a Northern Virginia school. It was the start of an extremely important relationship.

Orakpo transitioned from elite college defensive end to outside linebacker when he joined the Redskins two seasons ago, so he’ll help guide Kerrigan through the same change. Even though Orakpo has experienced his share of growing pains, he’s a qualified mentor with two Pro Bowls already to his name.

“He’s definitely a big resource,” Kerrigan said. “I’m looking forward to getting better and learning from him.”

Kerrigan’s first lesson was one Orakpo mastered fairly early in his rookie season. Generating sufficient power from a two-point stance is a hurdle that stifles some who attempt the transition. Andre Carter, for example, never was able to duplicate the force with which he rushed from a down position, and the Redskins released him earlier this offseason.

Orakpo, however, has been effective rushing from a standing position because of his low leverage and powerful hips.

“Staying low in your stance,” Kerrigan said. “That’s one adjustment that’s really hard for guys because when you’re on two feet you’re standing up and more upright, so really bending your knees and coming out low is a big thing in this position.”

Kerrigan’s ability to master pass-coverage elements also will determine the success of his transition. That’s a tricky one that Orakpo still is navigating.

“I told him it’s going to be tough, man,” Orakpo said. “I had my times when I was frustrated, and I wanted to put my hand back in the dirt and go.

“It’s something he’s going to have to learn, the 3-4. It’s a very challenging defense, a lot of terminology and lingo that goes with it. Then he’s standing up and seeing receivers, running backs and making calls.”

The faster Kerrigan catches on, the more quickly the Redskins will achieve much-needed balance with their pass rush. Orakpo had 8.5 sacks last season, six more than the next-highest Redskins defender.

Opponents constantly shifted pass protection to Orakpo’s side last season, believing that they could get away with one-on-one matchups on the other side of the formation. They were often correct.

“If you can create a situation where you have two dominant ends, now how do [offenses] tweak the protections to handle both?” Beck said. “I remember being on the sideline last year where we’d watch Rak, and they were just holding the crap out of him. OK, so now what do you do? You’ve got both guys that [put] you in trouble. It should be exciting.”

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