When the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears earned the right to play in the NFC Championship game, OLB Brian Orakpo made the Pro Bowl. With Bears LB Lance Briggs and Packers LB Clay Matthews both named to the Pro Bowl and one of them going to the Super Bowl, first alternate Orakpo got the Pro Bowl nod. Orakpo missed the Pro Bowl voting this year after making it as a rookie last year with 11 sacks. He had only 8.5 sacks this year as defenses adjusted to his speed moves and took advantage of the fact that Orakpo was the only serious pass-rusher on the team. [DE Andre Carter had 11 sacks last year but only 2.5 this year as the 3-4 defense shoved him to the sidelines.] John Keim has more: Orakpo, like the rest of the defense, had to adjust to a new scheme. As a rookie, he mostly rushed from a four-point stance, with occasional blitzes from a stand-up position. But this season he rushed from a two-point stance as an outside linebacker. It put him closer to the line of scrimmage, enabling him to use his explosiveness.
He finished with 8 ½ sacks after recording 11 as a rookie. But Orakpo also drew numerous holding penalties, including one on the final play vs. Dallas in the season opener that negated a game-winning touchdown pass.
Orakpo said he had to work on staying low while rushing from a two-point position. He also said he wants to add more counter moves in the future.
“It was different,” Orakpo said of rushing from the 3-4. “It’s something I want to improve on. The four-point stance was my thing through my career [including college]. But this was the first year to gauge it and get a feel of it and I was satisfied from that standpoint. I’m very hard on myself and my expectations were high and I felt I left a lot out there this season.”
He also said he wants to add more counter moves.
“So I can get that extra effort and instead of getting holding calls so much,” he said, “I can have that extra move to get those hands off me and be able to rip through it or whatever I need to do to make plays instead of relying on holding calls.” Orakpo also needs to work on his rush defense. He was frequently caught out of position this year as he over-pursued to one side, allowing runners to cut back and make big gains to his side.
Special Teams coach Danny Smith has rejected an offer to join the staff of John Fox in Denver and will remain with the Redskins for at least one more season, his 8th with the team. John Keim writes that Smith's captain is happy about it: . "It's something we need to stay consistent in. Since he's been there, special teams is probably the best thing we've done. We might have had to change up our entire scheme and when you've been doing something for [so long], and then you learn something different you nromally have a let down, like we had going from a 4-3 to a 3-4." The Redskins need to fix their kicking game and that's Smith's job. The team was 29th in punt coverage this year and poor punting was a major reason. Washington went through three punters in 2010 -- Josh Bidwell, Hunter Smith and Sam Paulescu -- and none of them performed very well. Danny Smith needs to find a punter who can hold down that job by bringing good ol' boring consistency to it. It isn't all bad news for the coverage units -- the Redskins were 2nd overall on kick coverage and the deep and high kicks of PK Graham Gano was a major reason for that. [Remember that the next time you're howling for Gano to be burned at the stake.]
Danny Smith also found a gem this year in RS Brandon Banks, who proved to be an electrifying playmaker and a major upgrade from Antwaan Randle El or Phillip Buchanon.
Mike Jones looks at the options at outside linebacker. Brian Orakpo has one position nailed down, but who will play on the other side? Andre Carter, who started the season at that position, was moved back to DE and is very unlikely to return since he's just not suited to play the 3-4 defense. His replacement as starter, Lorenzo Alexander, played decently against the run, but provides virtually no pass rush and does struggle to play in space. Another season in the defense and losing a few more pounds could help Alexander play better, but 2008 7th round pick Rob Jackson, who spent the first 15 weeks of 2010 on the practice squad, played well in the final two games of the season. Top free agent outside linebackers include Tamba Hali of Kansas City [14.5 sacks] and Lamarr Woodley of the Pittsburgh Steelers [10+ sacks the past 3 seasons], but Von Miller, Akeem Ayers and Justin Houston are possibilities in the first round of the draft.
Rich Tandler runs down the history of the 10th pick in the NFL Draft, the pick the Redskins hold in 2011.
Thom Loverro writes that Redskins fans can only gaze at the NFL playoffs with envy.