With Brian Orakpo back in the Washington Redskins’ lineup this season at outside linebacker opposite Ryan Kerrigan, the team’s pass rush seems likely to improve even without further tinkering. Orakpo has demonstrated throughout his career that he not only will get sacks of his own, but he also will draw the sort of attention from opposing offenses that should free rushing lanes to the quarterback for Kerrigan to exploit.
It has become clear through two preseason games, though, that there’s more to it than that in the Redskins’ planning. Washington’s defense has seven sacks in two exhibition games, and it is getting pass-rushing contributions from the defensive line as well as from more likely candidates such as Orakpo and Kerrigan.
Redskins players say they expect defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to unveil additional pass-rushing packages for the regular season that will keep quarterbacks from being too comfortable in the pocket. There is more than one way to try to fix a pass defense that ranked 30th in the league last season, and getting to the quarterback far more consistently is part of the Redskins’ formula for improvement in that area.
“We’re gonna be a lot better this year, a lot better,” Orakpo said. “We’re not going to really need to blitz as much. We’re gonna keep it — if we’re able to get pressure with four guys, we’re gonna keep it that way year-long. We’ve got a lot of different packages that we haven’t even [shown]. We’re just very, very basic, very vanilla right now. . . . Our pass rush is by far going to be a lot better, as you guys can see the past two games.”
The Redskins’ pass rush suffered last season with Orakpo sidelined after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in the second game. Kerrigan had 8.5sacks, but no other Redskins player reached even the five-sack mark. Reserve outside linebacker Rob Jackson was second on the team with 4.5.
“It’s been a big emphasis, not just getting pressure but getting pressure with four guys because that’s what we didn’t do well enough last year,” Kerrigan said this week. “We had to rely too much on the blitz. You want to be able to get pressure with just your down linemen.”
Kerrigan said the pass-rushing efforts of linemen Kedric Golston, Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen in Monday night’s preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers were particularly encouraging.
“The guys on the inside like Kedric and Bowen and Barry, they were dominating guys on the inside of the Pittsburgh offensive line,” Kerrigan said. “So that’s a good sign for us and should bode well for the rest of the season.”
Cofield was particularly active against the Steelers. The nose tackle in a three-lineman, four-linebacker alignment generally isn’t seen as a spot for a highly productive pass rusher. But Cofield said he hopes to contribute in that area.
“That’s where I’m going to have to try to make my money, as they say,” said Cofield, who suffered a broken bone in his right hand Monday night but hopes to play in the regular season opener. “Third down, we’ve got all kinds of packages and whatnot. So I’m not sure how much of the field I’ll even see. I’ve got to try to make it happen on first and second down and run situations. There are pre-snap keys that I’ve gotten more comfortable with that I’m trying to read, different things we’re doing up front where I have some liberties. I have trust in my guys behind me to cover up for me. So there’s a combination of things.”
The Redskins like rookie linebacker Brandon Jenkins’s potential as a pass rusher, and Haslett’s task for this season is to come up with creative pass-rush packages that get Kerrigan, Orakpo and Jenkins on the field at the same time — and keep offenses guessing as to where each will be lined up.
“We’ve got so many playmakers,” Orakpo said. “We’re trying to do our best to get everybody out on the field to be able to go out there and make plays. . . . We’ve got a whole bunch of stuff in storage that we can’t wait to really showcase for the season. . . . It’s gonna be a great season with us pass rushing. We shouldn’t have any problems this year.”
Haslett said Thursday that the Redskins have “different combinations” they can use in their bid to have a greatly improved pass rush this season.
“You’ve got Ryan, who can move around and play different spots now,” Haslett said. “His first year or two, we didn’t want to do much with him because he played left side in college. So he can get out, move around. Same thing with ’Rak, with Bowen, Barry, those kind of guys. You’ve got more versatility with those [players] because there’s more of an understanding of the scheme.”