Russel

Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell (2) is sacked by Washington Redskins defensive end Brian Orakpo (hidden) and defensive end Andre Carter (99) during the third quarter in Oakland, Calif., Sunday.

ASHBURN, Va. — Every week during the NFL season, Texas coach Mack Brown has one of his video guys compile highlights of plays made by his former Longhorns. He’ll send most of the players a text message — whether they had a good day or bad — to let them know they still have support from the Lone Star State.

This week’s message to Washington Redskins rookie Brian Orakpo was after a good day, a very good day.

Orakpo had four sacks in the Redskins’ 34-13 win over Oakland on Sunday, tying a franchise record, raising his season total to 11 and making him a solid contender for the league’s defensive rookie of the year. He’s within range of Jevon Kearse’s NFL rookie record of 14 1/2 sacks set in 1999.

“He’s smart, he’s in tremendous condition, and he does have such a quick burst off the line of scrimmage,” said Brown, his Longhorns pride coming through loud and clear in a telephone interview.

On Wednesday, Orakpo was chosen as the NFC’s defensive player of the week, and the Redskins supplied another notable nugget: His 44 yards in sacks on Sunday are the most in an NFL game since the statistic began being reliably tracked in 1994.

Orakpo and teammate Andre Carter are feeding off each other, and their 22 combined sacks ranks them as the No. 1 tandem in the league.

If this keeps up, the rookie of the year vote will be a close one. Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing has emerged as an early favorite, while Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd leads the league with nine interceptions.

“I know I’m competing with one of my good friends down there in Houston,” Orakpo said. “I know he’s doing his thing, so it’s going to be a good race. We talk all the time about it, so we’ll see. The last man standing, basically.”

To get this far, the No. 13 overall draft pick has overcome several hurdles he didn’t have to face with the Longhorns — a position switch to linebacker, the frustration of playing for a losing team and the infamous “rookie wall” that comes from playing a much longer season.

Orakpo won the Nagurski, Lombardi and Hendricks Awards at Texas as a defensive end, but the Redskins drafted him with the intent of playing him at linebacker and moving him to the line on passing downs. It’s been a challenge learning the new role, and backup H.B. Blades was getting more snaps on first and second downs in recent games.

“It was frustrating at times,” Orakpo said. “At times I didn’t want to do it. I just wanted to rush.”

But the coaches tinkered with Orakpo’s role against Oakland, giving him more snaps at defensive end. Also, his first sack of the game came from the linebacker position.

“We are working on his strengths, no question about it,” coach Jim Zorn said.

Orakpo was also guilty early in the season of overpreparing — an unusual problem for a rookie. He’d study the lineman he would be facing and prepare his moves based on what he saw on the video — then stick with that plan regardless of what was happening in front of him on game day. The coaches essentially told him to stop thinking so hard and start reacting to the blockers’ moves.

“The coaches sat down with me and said, ‘Hey, ’Rak, we just need you to go, whatever you need to do to get to the quarterback. ... Think of it as if you were at Texas,”’ Orakpo said. “And that’s what I’ve been doing, and it’s been working very effectively.”



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