April 27, 2009

Reaction: DE Brian Orakpo

I admit it.

When the NY Jets moved up to grab Franchise QB-designee Mark Sanchez with the fifth overall selection of the 2009 NFL Draft on Saturday, and the realization set in that there would be no tumultuous quarterback transition in Washington this offseason (or at least this weekend), I experienced a moment of vague disappointment.

In fairness, it was probably due as much to the sense of “losing out” to another team—the competitive juices flow hard on draft day—as it was legitimate concern over the long-term best interests of the Washington Redskins (talking QB changes everything). Nonetheless, in that instant I felt a little deflated.

It didn’t last long.

As the subsequent picks unfolded and the Redskins selection drew closer, with big men like OT Michael Oher and DE's Brian Orakpo, Robert Ayers and Aaron Maybin still on the board, I got jazzed all over again. And when Denver surprisingly chose RB Knowshon Moreno at number twelve, leaving the Redskins a virtual smorgasbord of highly-rated big men from which to choose, I quietly pumped a fist.

I certainly didn't expect the Redskins to send someone sprinting to the podium before the echo of the Moreno announcement even faded to turn in their card (seriously, what was that?—if you aren't going to use your allotted time to field possible trade offers, at least give your fans the full allotment in which to revel—we waited months for those ten minutes), but when they did, and the Commissioner read off the name Brian Orakpo, my gut reaction was fierce ...

“Oh hell yes.”

It only took a moment for the mental image of Orakpo putting his hand in the dirt alongside Cornelius Griffin, Albert Haynesworth and Andre Carter to dance into my head. It took only a few seconds more to envision him standing over Phillip Daniels, Renaldo Wynn or Chris Wilson’s shoulder on that first 2nd-and-long of the new season, or sliding up and down the line on 3rd-and-long behind Haynesworth, as NY Giants QB Eli Manning tracks him warily.

It sank in fast ... the Redskins may well have built themselves pass rush Saturday.

Been talking a lot lately about how the Redskins haven’t had a pure pass-rusher since Charles Mann (no disrespect to Andre Carter) left town in 1993. They have had good defenses in that time, yes, particularly since defensive coordinator Gregg Williams brought his act to town in 2004 and Greg Blache continued it in 2008. But one thing they have not been known for since the end of the first Gibbs era has been pass rush.

The additions of Haynesworth and Orakpo remake the Redskins defensive profile almost overnight, and potentially at least, point to an evolution away from the strictly containment-type units they have fielded for years and toward the kind of aggressive, ball-hawking defenses in cities like Pittsburgh and Baltimore that Redskins fans have eyed jealously for so long.

There are no guarantees, of course, that any of this will happen. Orakpo could become 2009's version of Mike Mamula as easily he could its Dwight Freeney. But as of today, with seemingly unlimited potential stretching for the next ten years in front of him, and what his development could mean for his team, it is difficult to look at his selection with anything other than excitment and anticipation.

We will see the Redskins new prize bull take the field in a Redskins uniform for the first time in the Redskins preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens on August 13. For those scoring at home, that’s 108 days.

Bring it.

Brian Orakpo becomes the first defensive lineman the Redskins have drafted in the first round since they made DE Kennard Lang the 17th overall choice in 1997.

A quick look at their draft history shows that defensive lineman has never really been targeted a position of first choice for Redskins brain trusts:

In the 72 college drafts since the franchise moved to Washington in 1937, Brian Orakpo becomes the Redskins' eighth defensive lineman chosen with their first available pick.

He becomes only the fourth defensive lineman selected in the first round.

He becomes the second-highest overall defensive line selection in team history, behind only DT Joe Rutgens, chosen third overall in 1961.

2009 – DE Brian Orakpo, 1st round (13)
1997 – DE Kenard Lang, 1st round (17)
1991 – DT Bobby Wilson, 1st round (17)
1989 – DT Tracy Rocker, 3rd round (66)
1986 – DE Marcus Koch, 2nd round (30)
1984 – DT Bob Slater, 2nd round (31)
1970 – DT Bill Brundige, 2nd round (43)
1961 – DT Joe Rutgens, 1st round (3)

I will give my take on the rest of the Redskins draft in the days ahead ... but for today, it’s all about the big man. Regardless of his selection slot, regardless of how close the team did or did not come to opting for Sanchez and a titanic quarterback controversy instead, the fact remains that Brian Orakpo—physical specimen, consensus man-beast and potentially the strongest pass-rushing burgundy and gold presence Dexter Manley—is a Washington Redskin.

As someone old to remember what that looks like on game days, count me as pretty damn juiced.

By the way, one quick request to young Mr. Orakpo. About that “big bed” you plan to buy, so you can relax and take it all in? Invest in an alarm as well. Maybe give new teammate Fred Davis a buzz—I hear he’s done some research.


April 23, 2009

Draft Day Wish List

Finally, mercifully, the NFL Draft is upon us.

For those old enough to remember when that meant little more than checking the Monday morning Washington Post sports section for the inside-page graphic listing the name, position and college of twelve mostly unknown new Redskins, the colossal hype machine surrounding 21st-century draft weekends is still the source of a little bemusement. It is no doubt a great weekend for any serious NFL fan however ... and all kidding aside, I count myself among them.

Bring it on.

Two of the best mock draft compilation sites I know of, DC Pro Sports Report and HailRedskins.com, both show roughly quarter of their compiled mock drafts predicting the Redskins will stand pat at pick number 13 and select Ole Miss OT Michael Oher.

Not being one to spend the hundreds of hours required to meaningfully assess an entire incoming draft class for the best prospect for any given teams' needs, I will assume, at the very least, that those who have put in the time have justifiable reason to believe Oher is worthy of being selected that high.

At 6'5”, 310 lbs., with no history of injury or "character issues" and widely considered a solid prospect, Oher would be a difficult selection to criticize. If ever a team needed a young, potential ten-year anchor at OT added to their roster, it is the 2009 Washington Redskins. If that is how it plays out Saturday, I will hail the pick.

Should it play out that the Redskins instead end up using that pick to select a similarly highly-regarded defensive end or linebacker, I will hail that as well. At some point the Redskins are going to have to begin restocking their offensive and defensive line and linebacker corps with young players, including, at long last, some drafted in the higher rounds rather than second-day hopefuls.

As much as an Oher or other similarly-rated DE or LB would feel "right" in terms of immediate on-field considerations, it would also send a comforting signal that the Redskins are willing to fight the impulse to chase "splash" with their top pick, and start the non-sexy but fundamentally sound process of rebuilding at the line of scrimmage.

Of course, then there's the whole QB Mark Sanchez thing.

I could write volumes on this, but in a nutshell ... the rules are different when it comes to quarterback. Given the buzz—hell, the roar—surrounding Sanchez of late, it would be a serious surprise to see him drop to #13. But if he does, and the Redskins are convinced he is The One ... they have to take him. And then, given the pressing needs elsewhere, they better damn well hope they're right.

I am not a fan of trading up to get him, however; the price will almost certainly be prohibitive given teams like the Jets and Broncos—both in more dire need of a QB and loaded with picks to offer in trade—are reportedly lusting after Sanchez as well.

With the Redskins' recent history of almost casual willingness to trade away high draft picks, the potential impact of giving up even one first- or other high-round pick is rather daunting. If the Redskins were in NY or Denver's situation and trying to trade away their stockpile of picks, Washington could pull the trigger on a move like this without blinking an eye.

But they are not (and despite their apparent loss of confidence in him, they do have a serviceable quarterback in hand in Jason Campbell) ... and with first-day picks so few and far between, the idea of parting with any, to say nothing of many, for anything other than a sure thing, toes the line between daunting and frightening.

Sorry about that sentence.

Bottom line, if the Redskins do end up getting Sanchez, there will be mixed feelings here. On the one hand, the longstanding dream of landing a true "franchise quarterback" after more than 20 years of watching the revolving door spin, is highly intriguing. If the thought of ending the drought doesn't get the burgundy in an any serious Redskins fans’ veins flowing, I respectfully submit they may have not been paying close attention to what that special one player, at that one key position, can mean to a professional football franchise.

On the other hand, given the acknowledged holes at OT, DE and LB, the idea of heading into 2009 without a stud rookie to project into at least one of those positions is a little daunting (okay, borderline frightening) as well.

If the Redskins end up pulling the trigger on Sanchez—be it via trade-up or having him slide unexpectedly to #13—they had better hope they're right, and the young man is indeed the real deal. Because if he isn't, they could well set the franchise back again on the order of the foundation-shaking, long-term hit they took with the mighty whiff on a certain Heath Shuler with the #3 overall pick way back in 1994.

Which, not coincidentally, is when the current QB revolving door spin-cycle in Washington began.

Cutting to the chase, my 2009 NFl Draft wish list:

1) Sanchez drops to the Redskins at #13 and a half-dozen teams throw offers their way hoping to trade up to get him, putting Washington in the enviable position of deciding between a guy they have decided is worth a shot as a franchise quartergack ... or accepting a bonanza in picks they cannot refuse to trade down. In the case of the latter, the Redskins use those picks on as many big, fast, aggressive, foul-breathed linemen and linebackers oozing evil intent for anyone wearing wrong-colored jerseys as their shopping basket can hold.

2) Use the #13 pick on the highest-rated OT, DE or LB left on their board. An Oher, say, or maybe a DE Tyson Jackson or DE Robert Ayers. Maybe even a stud LB like USC's Ray Maluaga or Brian Cushing. Then, use the remaining picks to bring in prospects at the other two positions. If they end up only using the four picks they have going in, use them on at least two linemen, one LB and one wildcard for best player available (young speed back, anyone?).

3) If they end up trading down, avoid the temptation to chase "skill position" players with the higher picks and focus extensively on the line of scrimmage.

If you think you sense a pattern, you're not wrong.

What do I think they should do?

Stay put at #13 and either use it on Sanchez, if he should happen to fall to them and they are convinced he's The Real Deal, or take the best OT, DE or LB left on their board.

What do I think they will do?

Something other than what I think they should. History teaches.

What do I think it all means?

1) that until the Washington Redksins start winning consistently again, those of us on the outside looking in legitimately get to criticize (and now again even poke a little fun) at the way they run their personnel business, and

2) that the offseason is much too long.

Draft Day is upon us. See you on the other side.


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April 15, 2009

Redskins 2009 Schedule: “It’s not that bad.”

Buttercup and Westley have just entered the Fire Swamp, and look around.

Westly: “It's not that bad.”

Buttercup stares at him in disbelief.

Westley: “Well, I’m not saying I’d like to build a summer home here, but the trees are qctually quite lovely.”

Every year I say I am not going to do it, and every year I do.

When the Redskins schedule comes out, I suspended my higher brain functions and play out the upcoming season in about a minute's time.

The first thing I always do is focus on the opener, because despite what the punditry will remind us over and over between now and then, it is not “just another game.” It is the game we will be focusing on, anticipating and building up for the next five months. It's also the game I will spend that time thinking about when envisioning the 2009 Redskins.

So yes, while technically it is “just one game,” in heart and mind it means a lot more from where we sit today than, say, a week thirteen game against the Raiders. So despite my better judgment (because as I said, I wasn’t going to do it this year) I lasered right in on the season opener with great expectation—gimme a 1 o’clock Sunday home against that Lions, baby—and ... erk.

The Giants. There. Again.


Then I proceeded to do what I always do (and as I wager most every true fan does, even if he/she doesn’t admit it aloud)—I scanned down the list and tallied up projected wins and losses.

No doubt it's a silly exercise, given we have no real sense at this point what kind of team the 2009 Redskins will be, nor what kind of team each opponent will be the week the Redskins face them, what each teams' the injury report will say the day of each game, which opponents might be coming off a bye, or two straight losses and desperate, or three straight wins and cocky, or ... you get my drift.

So with all of that said ... memorialized here so I won’t be tempted to go back and hide from it later (not that I, you know, would), set out below is my first-blush projected regular season, based on nothing more than gut reaction.

I will plan to revisit both the schedule and projected season at least a couple of times before opening day; probably once right before training camp opens in July, and again in the week after the final preseason game.

At that point, of course, I will replace base instinct with at least a touch of brain function, and be able to incorporate considerable new data. But that won’t be as pure, and perhaps not nearly as much fun.

9/13 – @ NYG...L
9/20 – STL...W
9/27 – @ DET...W
10/4 – TB...W

10/11 – @ CAR...L
10/18 – KC...W
10/26 – PHI...W

11/8 – @ ATL...L

11/15 – DEN... W
11/22 – @ DAL...L
11/29 – @ PHI...L
12/6 – NO...W

12/13 – @ OAK...W
12/21 – NYG...W
12/27 – DAL...W

1/3 – @ SD...L

Reg. Season Record: 10-6

Which, as first reactions go, isn't that bad.


April 8, 2009

Redskins OL: Tale of the Tape

Continuing the offseason look into the current state of the Redskins lines of scrimmage and how they arrived there ...

During the Pittsburgh and Baltimore games in weeks nine and ten last year, it became crystal clear to me that the Redskins were simply overmatched on the offensive line of scrimmage. As a result, I have been thinking (okay borderline obsessing) about how the Redskins stack up against the NFL in those areas ever since, and the notion I’ve had in my head is that the Redskins were not only older than most teams on the line, but smaller as well.

Taking a quick break, therefore, from pondering the combination of offensive tackles, defensive ends and linebackers the Redskins will surely draft later this month, I thought I would put that unsubstantiated impression to the test.

Setting aside for today the comparative skill levels of the players involved, as well as how their skill sets might fit the schemes they are being asked to run (a factor in the transition from a Gibbs/Saunders offense to Jim Zorn's that cannot be overlooked), I started by looking at the three other NFC East teams.

It is inescapable—those games are generally the barometer for success in any given season. The Redskins play six combined games a year against the Dallas Cowboys, NY Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, comprising 37.5% of their regular season schedule. Fare well in those six games, 4-2 or better, and we are probably looking at a burgundy and gold playoff season. Fare poorly and we are almost definitely looking at January basketball. Shudder.

Hypothesis: compared to rest of the NFC East, the Redskins are old and undersized on the offensive line.

Data source: NFL.com team depth charts, 4/7/09.

Note: I acknowledge the depth charts are not up-to-date; some players listed are no longer on their respective rosters, others have been added. Given the fluid nature of team rosters at the moment, it was practical to look at the depth charts as they were at the end of the 2008 season. In addition, this exercise is less about predicting what will happen in 2009 than assessing where each team was the last time it took the field of play in anger. If nothing else, it should give us some idea of how the teams in question were constructed.

The Redskins starting OL, as of the end of 2008, by name, age, height and weight:

And for those already saying, "Yeah, but Derrick Dockery (28, 6-6, 330) for Pete Kendall changes everything ..."

WAS - 33, 6-5, 300 (w/ Kendall)

WAS - 31, 6-5, 309 (w/ Dockery)

The rest of the NFC East:

How the Redskins stack up:

[It must be noted that other teams have made changes that impact the numbers as well; good example being Philadelphia, with free agent OT Stacy Andrews (27, 6-7, 342) replacing departing veteran Jon Runyan (35, 6-7, 330), the result of which makes them both younger and bigger as well.]

The results will come as no surprise to those who follow the team—particularly not the age (oldest by 2 years). They may or may not be surprised to learn that of the four NFC East teams, the Redskins were also on average the lightest (by avg. of 24 lbs.), though they are even with Dallas and Philadelphia in average height (6-5 to NYG @ 6-3) among the starting offensive lines.

And since we already invoked the Dockery factor ... plugging his numbers in place of Kendall's, the Redskins are tied for oldest (w/ DAL @ 31), tied for tallest (6-5 to NYG @ 6-3), but still by far the lightest (by avg. of 15 lbs.).

Interestingly, the second-string shows Washington just about even. At an average of 27 years old, age-wise they are tied with the NY Giants (although Fabini, at 71, pretty much blows out the average). Height and weight-wise, however, at 6-4, 312 lbs., they are right in the mix. Which reminds us again that this specific exercise calls for setting aside the players’ relative skill levels and experience—the latter being particularly true in the case of “depth”players.

All that said, bottom line I don't think it is any coincidence that late in games, late in the season and just when matched up against the NFL’s elite defenses, the Redskins offensive line plain and simply looked overmatched.

Add to that the fact that not one of the Redskins starting five in 2008 (or currently projected to start in 2009) were initially brought in with skill sets targeted to running the West Coast Offense, and the only real surprise in 2008 might have been that the OL helped the team get off to the 6-2 start to begin with.

By midseason, as defenses studied enough film to cover any confusion over Zorn's new schemes and were able to start defending the Redskins aggressively, as the element of surprise was lost so was the line of scrimmage. What was also appeared clear down the stretch was that the Redskins were fielding an offensive line that was at best average, and at worst, slow, worn out and ineffective.

We all know age and size are only part of the equation. If the Redskins OL was older and smaller than the opposition but as individuals all playing at Pro Bowl level, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Sadly, they were not, and so we are.

The data confirmed my impression that the Redskins OL was, and as of today still is, not just arguably too old to be effective over the course of a long season, but also, by a noticeable margin, the smallest in an historically smashmouth division. Hate to say, it but ... size matters.

To explore the idea further I plan to get into the skill-level question in a subsequent piece, but first will be comparing the 2008 Redskins OL by age and size to a broader NFL cross-section—the teams that qualified for the playoffs. I hope to find otherwise, but my instinct is that we will find the Redskins firmly planted in the older, smaller end of the spectrum in that company as well.

And in case anyone is wondering, yes, I also plan to also conduct a similar exercise with the other side of the line of scrimmage.

Until then, though, if you happen to be partial to the burgundy and gold, please consider deploying any karmic ammunition you might have at your disposal and join me in beaming it directly toward the quiet D.C. suburb of Ashburn, VA.

"Draft big ... draft big ... draft big ..."

April 2, 2009

Is Jay Cutler Worth the Risk?

According to multiple sources, the Redskins are actively pursuing a trade for Denver QB Jay Cutler.

Yesterday at this time I thought that rumor was off the table and had moved on to other things–the draft, preseason schedule, being just days away from sleeping with the windows open for the two weeks Spring lasts in the D.C. area. As of last night however, the rumor was not only back on the table, but a flashing neon centerpiece.

So at the risk of publishing while the news cycle is still spinning and having this all rendered moot before the pixels dry ...

Thoughts and observations, shotgun-style:

Effect on Jason Campbell

Count on Campbell and/or his agent being on the phone to Cerrato since last night trying to find out whether the buzz has merit. If the Redskins are seriously pursuing Cutler, they have two choices in how to respond: they can lie to his face, or tell him the truth.

The former becomes a problem only if the Cutler deal doesn’t materialize and word filters back to Campbell that the Redskins were in fact trying to make the deal. The latter—telling him the truth—would put Campbell in the unenviable and difficult position of knowing his team has lost faith in him.

Sound familiar?

Effect in the Locker Room

To hear tell, Jason Campbell is popular with and has the confidence of his teammates. So in trying to decide if they should bring in Jay Cutler, the team may or may not want to poll the team leaders in the locker room. This isn’t like taking their temperature on bringing in Albert Haynesworth—there was no popular incumbent player being replaced there, it was simply a matter of determining whether or not guys like London Fletcher and Cornelius Griffin felt comfortable with Haynesworth’s reported character issues in the mix.

I can guarantee one thing; if this rumor persists more than 24 hours, reporters are going to start sticking microphones in players faces (I suspect they're trying even now) and asking, “What do you think about the team trying to trade away Jason Campbell?” You know what they’re going to say. They’re going to talk about his work ethic, his desire, what a good a teammate he is, etc. I suspect the Redskins know they’d hear the same thing in private from some if not all the players.

If the Redskins do pull the trigger on this, it’s almost a given some factions in the locker room are going to react negatively. As far as anyone without regular access to inner sanctum can know, Jason Campbell has been nothing but class since arriving in Washington, and in a perfect world you’d like to think he “deserves” better than twisting in the wind. Professional football is hardly a perfect world in that aspect, however, which the players also know.

Bottom line, if the Redskins end up swinging this deal, it brings with it a calculated risk of real, possibly lasting resentment/distrust in the locker room; a locker room Joe Gibbs spent four long, often trying years reshaping from the circus-like culture it evolved through the Turner/Schottenheimer/Spurrier years, to the mature, veteran culture it enjoys today.

Caveat Emptor.

Effect on Cutler

It’s one thing to be a precocious rookie from Vanderbilt who flashes early, and makes a name for himself as an up-and-comer in the league. It’s entirely another to ride in on a white horse, with herald trumpeters playing Hail to the Franchise, into a locker room where he may or may not be particularly welcome, in a town that hasn’t had a Franchise QB in almost two generations.

Think there was pressure in Denver, Jay? Welcome to the big leagues.

Can Cutler Play?

Depends on who you ask. Personally, I’ve watched maybe half-a-dozen complete Jay Cutler games, simply not enough data to have formed an informed judgment. From what I have seen, though, he appears to be immensely gifted physically. He moves well, throws ropes, has touch, competes hard and make a lot of plays on his own. That last quality being something the Redskins haven't enjoyed from that position in a long time.

I have also seen him make questionable decisions with the ball. And I have heard the same whispers you probably have about his one possible weakness being the ability to read defenses–something that should set off alarm bells in the mind of any Redskins fan who has been paying attention.

In my view, there is little doubt the man has the physical wherewithal to become a true franchise quarterback for the next decade, but the jury is still out on what he’s sporting between the ears. As a fan, I would like to think the Redskins, if they are seriously considering making a move for this man, have done their homework and have no such reservations about the latter.


If the team does end up making this move, credit to them for major league cojones. They know what’s at stake here. More than any move they have made since wooing Joe Gibbs out of retirement in 2004, this would define the front office for the foreseeable future.

If Jay Cutler were to emerge as the real deal and lead the team up the mountain, and five years from now we are talking about whether the Redskins can repeat as NFC Champions, no one will remember the drama associated with bringing him here back in March 2009. The move to go aggressively out and get him, despite all the risks would be hailed as the turning point in the Dan Snyder Era, and the days of Deion Sanders and Jeff George would be thankfully, finally relegated to the dust bin (wherever that is).

However ... if they make the move and Cutler turns out to be just another guy, and five years from now we are still talking about their search for a quarterback, the move could well turn out to be memorialized as the single worst decision the franchise has made since, well ... the decision not to hire a General Manager for Steve “Hey I Just Work Here” Spurrier, after having told him they would.

And of course, should they actually be trying to make this deal and it falls through, leaving them with an embarrassed, fuming Jason Campbell thinking to himself, “This place is whack–one more year and I’m out” ... suffice to say that would also not be good.

Regardless of how it might play out play, if the Redskins really are seriously looking into making this move, they are also looking at a seminal moment in their recent history.

Is Cutler Worth the Risk?


Sorry, but that’s the best anyone who hasn’t worked with the man on a daily basis can realistically say at this point. It hasn’t stopped most experts, professional or otherwise, from doing so anyway, but I have no problem admitting when I don’t have enough information to make an informed call.

Here’s what I do believe:

IF Jay Cutler is a legitimate franchise-type quarterback who can solidify the position at a Pro Bowl level for the next 10 years, then yes. It's a move the team has to pursue. Any team as quarterback-starved as the Washington Redskins have been for a generation has to at the very least explore the possibility. 25-year-old franchise QB's just heading into their primes don't come around often. One does, you better make your play.

IF the Redskins believe Jay Cutler is not the hypersensitive knucklehead he appears to be based on how the story has been reported, and are convinced he would come to Washington serious about his craft, committed to being a solid teammate and determined to show the world he’s not that guy ... then yes. It’s a move they have to pursue. This isn't like going after an Albert Haynesworth, this is going after a potential Franchise Quarterback. It changes all the rules.

I have been an outspoken Jason Campbell guy all along, but four years into his career I admit my thinking has changed. I do still believe he can become a solid NFL QB (particularly in the right system), but I have grown less confident he has the total package necessary to become The Man in Washington.

So for me it comes down to this: Do the Redskins—specifically Jim Zorn, Vinny Cerrato and Dan Snyder—believe Jay Cutler is The Man? If the answer is yes, then despite the risks I back them in the effort. What has me hedging is that confidence in their ability to coolly, dispassionately and accurately make that call is not at an all time high.

One thing is certain ... Redskins offseasons are never boring.