Redskins' Orakpo eyes NFL defensive rookie of year

BY foxsports • December 17, 2009

Every week during the NFL season, Texas coach Mack Brown has one of his video guys compile highlights of plays made by his former Longhorns. He'll send most of the players a text message - whether they had a good day or bad - to let them know they still have support from the Lone Star State.

This week's message to Washington Redskins rookie Brian Orakpo was aftr a good day, a very good day.

Orakpo had four sacks in the Redskins' 34-13 win over Oakland on Sunday, tying a franchise record, raising his season total to 11 and making him a solid contender for the league's defensive rookie of the year. He's within range of Jevon Kearse's NFL rookie record of 14 1/2 sacks set in 1999.

``He's smart, he's in tremendous condition, and he does have such a quick burst off the line of scrimmage,'' said Brown, his Longhorns pride coming through loud and clear in a telephone interview.

On Wednesday, Orakpo was chosen as the NFC's defensive player of the week, and the Redskins supplied another notable nugget: His 44 yards in sacks on Sunday are the most in an NFL game since the statistic began being reliably tracked in 1994.

Orakpo and teammate Andre Carter are feeding off each other, and their 22 combined sacks ranks them as the No. 1 tandem in the league.

If this keeps up, the rookie of the year vote will be a close one. Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing has emerged as an early favorite, while Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd leads the league with nine interceptions.

``I know I'm competing with one of my good friends down there in Houston,'' Orakpo said. ``I know he's doing his thing, so it's going to be a good race. We talk all the time about it, so we'll see. The last man standing, basically.''

To get this far, the No. 13 overall draft pick has overcome several hurdles he didn't have to face with the Longhorns - a position switch to linebacker, the frustration of playing for a losing team and the infamous ``rookie wall'' that comes from playing a much longer season.

Orakpo won the Nagurski, Lombardi and Hendricks Awards at Texas as a defensive end, but the Redskins drafted him with the intent of playing him at linebacker and moving him to the line on passing downs. It's been a challenge learning the new role, and backup H.B. Blades was getting more snaps on first and second downs in recent games.

``It was frustrating at times,'' Orakpo said. ``At times I didn't want to do it. I just wanted to rush.''

But the coaches tinkered with Orakpo's role against Oakland, giving him more snaps at defensive end. Also, his first sack of the game came from the linebacker position.

``We are working on his strengths, no question about it,'' coach Jim Zorn said.

Orakpo was also guilty early in the season of overpreparing - an unusual problem for a rookie. He'd study the lineman he would be facing and prepare his moves based on what he saw on the video - then stick with that plan regardless of what was happening in front of him on game day. The coaches essentially told him to stop thinking so hard and start reacting to the blockers' moves.

``The coaches sat down with me and said, 'Hey, 'Rak, we just need you to go, whatever you need to do to get to the quarterback. ... Think of it as if you were at Texas,''' Orakpo said. ``And that's what I've been doing, and it's been working very effectively.''

The losing has been particularly hard to take, and that's where Brown helps out. The Texas coach said he regularly counsels his pro players about the climbdown from perennial championship contender to a league where even the good team can have six losses.

``Our guys are pretty spoiled,'' Brown said. ``And they have to make that transition by understanding they can be on a good team and still not win all the games. We tell them it's part of the process, you should try to win every game, and if you ever get so you're not disappointed when you lose, you should quit.''

That sounds good, but it doesn't make the Redskins' 4-9 record any easier to stomach.

``I'm not fine with it,'' Orakpo said. ``It was hard at first because I'm looking around and everybody's telling me we got another week to get better. I'm like, 'We just keep losing. This has to change.'''

As for the rookie wall, Orakpo says blasted through it by taking better care of his body than he ever did in college.

``I come and I get my normal rehabilitation after the games, ice tub, it's just a lot of stuff that I'm normally not accustomed to doing,'' Orakpo said. ``But it's really helping me to push forward through this long season.''

Orakpo, who earned his degree with a semester to spare, was a locker room leader at Texas who would go to Brown with suggestions. Teammates say it won't be long before has a similar role with the Redskins.

``He doesn't carry himself like a rookie, doesn't play like a rookie,'' middle linebacker London Fletcher said. ``A lot of rookies, when they come in, they don't necessarily have the focus that you need to be successful in this league. When he is in the building, he is all about football.''

NOTES: WR Devin Thomas will get his shot at returning punts Monday night against the New York Giants. Antwaan Randle El, averaging only 3.9 yards per return, misplayed two punts against Oakland. ... DT Albert Haynesworth (ankle), CB DeAngelo Hall (knee) and FB Mike Sellers (thigh) were limited to drill work Wednesday. All three missed the Oakland game. ... Rookie WR Marko Mitchell walked around in the locker room wearing veteran WR Santana Moss' jersey. ``I'm the real Santana Moss,'' Mitchell said. ``He's just an impostor.'' Moss, who is only 5-foot-10, had no problem pointing out the flaw in Mitchell's argument: ``I ain't 6-4.''

share story