Redskins Training Camp Preview: Outside Linebacker
Today we continue with our review of each position on the Washington Redskins and how it could change [or not change] during the 2013 training camp and preseason. Now up, outside linebacker.
ON THE ROSTER: Ricky Elmore, Rob Jackson*, Brandon Jenkins, Ryan Kerrigan, Bryan Orakpo, Vic So’oto, Darryl Tapp
STARTER: Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo
BACKUP: Rob Jackson, Brandon Jenkins, Darryl Tapp
ON THE BUBBLE: Ricky Elmore, Vic So’oto
* Jackson is suspended for the first four games of the regular season due to PED use.
ANALYSIS: It was a peculiar season for Ryan Kerrigan, the first time he’s had to play almost the entire year without running mate Brian Orakpo, who missed almost all of 2012 with a torn pectoral muscle. Kerrigan was fantastic in the season opener against the Saints and also played very well against the Bengals, the Ravens and the second Eagles game. However, he also had some true stinkers, like against the Vikings, the first Giants game and against the Seahawks in the playoffs. Kerrigan’s pass rush was pretty good most of the season, especially considering he didn’t have Orakpo to draw double teams. However, Kerrigan was taken out of his pass rush at times and when this happened, the team struggled badly to pressure the QB at all. Kerrigan’s pass coverage, an often overlooked part of his OLB duties, improved hugely over his 2011 rookie season, indicating that Kerrigan works just has hard to improve as his reputation suggests.
Getting Orakpo back will be huge for the defense. Washington got a solid pass rush for much of 2011 and that helped the defense excel. While Orakpo is not fearsome against the rush or in coverage, his presence on the field helps the defensive line focus more on stopping the running back and the near-constant double teams Orakpo draws help everyone else on the defense. He’s healthy and in the final year of his rookie contract so Orakpo should be motivated almost beyond belief to have a big year and force the Redskins to give him the financial security he wants.
Jackson will miss the first four games of the season due to PED use. With a healthy Orakpo around, that’s not a huge loss for the Redskins. However, Jackson does have his uses. He’s not a very good pass-rusher and the drop-off from Orakpo to Jackson at pressuring the QB is vast. However, Jackson is easily the team’s best coverage linebacker and one of the better coverage ‘backers in the NFL. However, the outside linebackers in a 3-4 really have to rush the passer well and Jackson had only 5 sacks and 10 QB pressures all season — despite starting from week three onward! Moving back in to a reserve role, at least for a year [his contract expires after the 2013 season] will be good for Jackson.
Tapp is a newcomer to the Redskins, but not the NFC East, having played for the Eagles from 2010-2012 after he was traded east by the team that drafted him in the second round back in 2006, the Seattle Seahawks. He’s played a lot of defensive end, but should be able to make the transition to OLB fairly smoothly, as long as he can focus on pass-rushing and stopping the run, which he ought to do quite well since he’s carrying around at least 265 pounds. As long as the Skins can keep Tapp out of pass coverage, they should be in good shape with him.
Jenkins is one of two fifth round draft picks from 2013, a former defensive end from Florida State who dropped in the draft after suffering a Lisfranc injury that ended his final year in school. NFL Draft guru Mike Mayock said of him: “This is a guy that at this point in the draft is value. Heavy production… as a pass-rush specialist. When you get in the sub package, this is a guy you can move around a little bit. He can really help you.” Jenkins has got great initial speed and can really move quickly. He’s never played OLB before so he’s likely to suffer badly in coverage, but the Redskins should be able to keep him out of those situations. Although only a rookie, Jenkins has the potential to give the team the sort of pass-rushing punch in passing situations that could more than make up for the loss of Rob Jackson in 2013 and, possibly, beyond.
PREDICTION: Orakpo and Kerrigan will be the starters, with Orakpo in a contract year and being highly motivated to rack up as many sacks as possible. Kerrigan’s motor is non-stop so we don’t need to worry about that. Tapp will get one backup job, while Jenkins will get another, at least until Jackson returns from his injury.