DC Landing Strip correspondent Marion's Crackpipe checks in with some opinions on Brian Orakpo and the Great Position Switch of 2009.
Last week a genius idea struck me. Let's draft the best defensive lineman in college, pay him tons of money, then make him play linebacker. No, better idea. Let's make him learn two positions!
Just when I thought I had the Mensa Genius Award locked up, Cerrato & Co. beat me to it. Not the first time, either: I once had this idea of paying an overrated white guy record-breaking amounts of cash to miss tackles for my favorite team. Cerrato took that one and ran with it, too.
'Skins first round pick Brian Orakpo, the 2008 Nagurski Award recipient given to the best defensive player in college football, is a studly pass-rushing defensive end known to make opposing qb’s o-crap-o their o-pants-o. After the 'Skins nabbed him with the 13th pick McNabb, Romo and Eli were spotted at nearby Costcos stocking up on the Astroglide. An obvious need of the 'Skins and for once, a seemingly wise draft pick by Vinny boy.
Then the truth surfaced: instead of grooming this potential sack monster to take over the LDE spot as Philip Daniels withers into obscurity, 'Skins brass has decided to cover their own ass and have Orakpo also fill the other glaring defensive need, strong-side "Sam" linebacker, simultaneously. Hey, it worked for Frankie "Zip" Joseph on the 1925 Dayton Triangles, why can't it work for Orakpo?
To be fair, Orakpo did work out before the draft as both a linebacker and d-end, and played a few pass-rushing downs at LB in college. The idea of switching college DEs to LBs at the pro level is not new, though it's riddled with tales of failure, the most recent being Vernon Gholston's struggles learning OLB in the 3-4 Jets' defense. And true, Orakpo is a bit undersized as an NFL d-end (as is Dwight Freeney, btw) and lighter DEs tend to struggle against the rush - and the 'Skins D is based on stopping the rush.
But that's because the 'Skins run a 4-3 defense in which the linebackers must drop into coverage, audible at the line, know varied gap and blocker assignments, and generally do the sort of things a college DE like Orakpo would never have learned. The 'Skins, though, think so highly of Orakpo that they're making him learn all this while figuring out DE at the NFL level. Most 'Skins fans would be happy with just modest gains in the latter.
In classic Cerrato fashion, a domino effect of personnel and cap mismanagement has led to a seemingly desperate move. Last year, it was throwing away this year's second rounder (which could have been used to draft an outside LB, for example) for Jason Taylor because the 'Skins had no roster depth after Daniels went down (we also switched JT's position; how'd that work out?). This year, it's forcing a rookie to play two positions because there was neither cap room nor the draft picks to obtain a reliable starter at both.
Look, there's a fine line between getting the most out of talented personnel and setting a kid up for failure, and Redskins management has completely obliterated that line once again. It's why guys like Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and even the great Joe Gibbs are considered failures upon departure, even if they did well during their tenures. It's why insane athletes like Sean Taylor aren't forced to learn second positions, even if they have the build for it. It's tough enough for Orakpo to shoulder the burden of becoming the 'Skins' entire pass rush, but then to expect him to learn a completely new skill set? In a few short months?
I understand that Orakpo will still be unleashed as a pass rusher on 3rd and long, and might very well become a Pro Bowl level OLB, who knows. And maybe he's the kind of kid who thrives under weighty expectations. I just feel like I've seen this movie before, and in a Redskins Nation where patience has gone the way of the do-do bird, I'm anxious to see how it plays out. Hint: I can already hear the "Orak-poo" calls coming.
[Orakpo image via SIKids.com]