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Redskins' Orakpo in a rush to get better

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,John Keim

Linebacker spent offseason diversifying his moves

ASHBURN -- He relied on his athleticism at Texas, and it worked. Brian Orakpo dominated college tackles without much diversity, just speed and power. And then his athleticism turned him into a top-15 pick in the NFL Draft. And it helped him make two Pro Bowls for the Redskins.

After three years in the NFL, however, Orakpo knows it's not enough. So this offseason Orakpo said he focused on varying his pass rush, something he also said after his second season.

"That's not my game, I'm not a technician," Orakpo said. "But obviously teams start to game plan for you, so it gets more difficult, especially when you see double teams and running backs [helping] or just athletic tackles. ... This is something I knew I'd do as I get older. Everyone has that counter."

But the book on Orakpo has been a simple one: He likes to use speed off the edge, going wide. And in big moments, he will try to bull rush the tackle.

However, he surprised left tackle Trent Williams, whom he has gone against in practice for three years now, with an inside spin.

"He hasn't shown that before," Williams said. "I could see he's putting moves in his arsenal."

Orakpo recorded 11 sacks as a rookie and followed that with 8.5 his second season. Last year he increased it to nine. By his standards, the last two years as a pass rusher were subpar.

"Everyone's goal is to hit double-digit sacks," Orakpo said. "If anyone tells you they don't care, they're lying. If I don't hit double-digit sacks, it's not a good year. I want to be in the top five leading sacks. ... I know I can. I just have to go out there and do it."

Part of doing that is adding more moves. Another part is moving him around, sometimes swapping sides with linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Late last season the Redskins sometimes would use both rushers on the same side. Other times Orakpo would line up in the middle. This season, with Kerrigan more experienced in the defense, they can put Orakpo on the left and Kerrigan on the right.

"We started doing it toward the end of the season, and it was very, very effective," Orakpo said. "That's something we'll try to incorporate more this season."

Orakpo even talked briefly with Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor at a recent autograph signing show. Taylor echoed what others told him: One move is enough. Then again, the names Orakpo drops are either in the Hall of Fame or could be one day.

"[Michael] Strahan said he had one move. Reggie White had one move," Orakpo said. "It's if they can stop it. That's one thing I want, to perfect my moves and then work a counter and go from there. But you don't have to have a whole arsenal. That's overrated."

However, if Orakpo wants to elevate his play, he must increase his arsenal.

"You start looking at different players and say, 'Hey, I don't have that move or this move and work on my repertoire' rather than just maybe power rushing somebody," coach Mike Shanahan said. "He's a student of the game."

And take it from a left tackle: Moves are necessary.

"Moves are sometimes [overrated], but you do need to have some that people have to prepare for," Williams said. "And the more moves you have, the more that person you're going against has to think about, then the easier it makes it on you."

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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