May 25, 2009

Brian Orakpo, Where Will He Line Up In 2009?

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Brian Orakpo was brought in by the Washington Redskins to bolster an anemic pass rush. Now, He may end up playing primarily at strong side linebacker.

Not what was expected, but it could end being a great move.

The coaching staff has been moving Orakpo between defensive end and OLB. Defensive end is his natural position, but the ‘Skins seem to feel that they have more of a need for an OLB.

Orakpo has the athleticism to play OLB. He possesses great acceleration and quickness, but will take time to develop at linebacker.

Defensive coordinator Greg Blache will get instant production from Orakpo at DE. At LB, expect a larger learning curve, which could prevent Orakpo from contributing consistently in 2009.

So the question begs: Will the Redskins sacrifice what Orakpo can provide at DE to fill a need at LB?

Should Orakpo play LB, it would most likely be on first and second down. On third downs, he would get in a three point stance at DE to give the Redskins four legitimate pass rushers on the defensive line.

Blache would be wise to draw up plays which would enable Orakpo to rush the passer from his two point stance at LB on some first and second downs. The Redskins have long been without a pass rushing linebacker, and Orakpo would cause nightmares for opposing blocking assignments.

However, pass rushing isn’t the main responsibility for the strong side linebacker in Blache’s system. Orakpo must brush up on his skills in coverage in order to man up on backs and tight ends.

Marcus Washington’s bum hamstring and HB Blades’ lack of speed put the Redskins at a disadvantage in pass coverage on the strong side last season. Orakpo has the talent to give the ‘Skins an upgrade there and so it’s simply a matter of how quickly he can learn the different coverage schemes.

When and if Orakpo lines up at linebacker, Phillip Daniels will take his spot on the defensive line. Daniels lacks the ability to get to the quarterback, but is one of the stronger run-stopping defensive ends on the team. Don’t expect to see Daniels on the field for passing downs as Orakpo will move into his spot, most likely making way for HB Blades at OLB.

There is a chance Blades will end up starting on the strong side, meaning the entire transition for Orakpo turns into how quickly he can adapt to the pro game at defensive end. A less complicated scenario and one that will maximize the strength of the front four.

Orakpo rushing off the edge with Andre Carter on the other side could be a deadly combination. Quarterbacks can no longer step up in the pocket away from the defensive ends due to the presence of Albert Haynesworth in the middle. If Haynesworth and the committee of other defensive tackles can penetrate up the middle, the Redskins will see a huge increase in sacks this season.

Either way Blache looks at the Orakpo situation there are positives. That comes with a player of his caliber. Good things will happen no matter where he lines up. It’s just a matter of putting him in a position to play the best game possible from a team standpoint.

When all is said and done, I see Orakpo being one of the more successful first round draft picks Washington has scooped up in years. Physical freaks like him don’t fail if they keep up a tireless work ethic and continue to improve in their knowledge of the game.

Expect Orakpo to do just that.