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Roster Review: Outside Linebackers

Posted Mar 12, 2012

With free agency and the NFL Draft fast approaching, Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman breaks down the Redskins' roster position by position. Up next: outside linebackers.


With free agency and the NFL Draft fast approaching, Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman breaks down the Redskins' roster position by position. Up next: inside linebackers.

When the Redskins drafted Brian Orakpo in the first round in 2009, they acquired a pass-rushing specialist who needed time to develop his coverage skills.

In his first two seasons, Orakpo led the defense in sacks, but needed a complement to reduce double-team blockers.

Last April, the Redskins invested another first-round pick in an outside linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan, another converted college defensive end, emerged as a force at outside linebacker.

Together, Orakpo and Kerrigan started all 16 games last season, with Kerrigan playing every defensive down of his rookie season.

The two flip-flopped for the team lead in sacks for most of the season, with Orakpo tallying nine and Kerrigan hauling in 7.5. Kerrigan finished sixth on the team with 70 tackles, and Orakpo was seventh with 66.

Kerrigan’s "Welcome To the NFL" moment came in Week 1 against the Giants.

The Redskins had the Giants backed up near their goal line when Eli Manning tried to throw a quick pass to the sidelines. Kerrigan fought off a low block on the play, getting his hands up to tip the ball.

He caught his own tipped pass and rumbled nine yards for a touchdown.

Coming into this season, Orakpo had never produced a full sack against a division quarterback.

After being shut out in the first four division games of 2011, Orakpo broke through with a sack against Manning in Week 15, and two sacks of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in Week 17.

Although reserve outside linebackers played a limited role last year, the defense still had quality production from Rob Jackson and Lorenzo Alexander.

Jackson finished the season with nine tackles and five quarterback pressures. He added three more tackles on special teams.

Alexander finished with just one defensive tackle, but led all special teamers with 21 tackles on punt and kickoff coverage.

Rookie Markus White, a seventh-round pick last April, made the transition from college defensive end just like Kerrigan. He appeared in two games, playing on special teams.


GARY FITZGERALD'S POSITIONAL ANALYSIS

The Redskins appear set at outside linebacker, given the presence of Orakpo and Kerrigan. The position is not a need.

Orakpo and Kerrigan should form a strong pass-rushing duo for years to come.

Jackson, a 2008 seventh-round draft pick, has shown flashes when he has had a chance on the Redskins' defense.

The ever-versatile Alexander has starting experience at outside and can play inside linebacker as well.

If White shows progress in off-season work and training camp, he could earn more playing time in 2012.


Three NFL Outside Linebackers Eligible for Free Agency

As of March 12, 2012; names listed are in no particular order

-- Mario Williams, Houston Texans: Williams made the transition to 3-4 linebacker last season and played only five games before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. In those five games, Williams tallied five sacks, proving that he can dominate from a two-point stance. At just 27 years old, he has 53 career sacks.

-- Jarret Johnson, Baltimore Ravens: Since being drafted as a defensive tackle out of Alabama, Johnson has transitioned to linebacker and become one of the Ravens’ leaders on defense. He has started 80 consecutive games. At age 30, he is solid as a run-stopper and in coverage and he should have a few quality years left.

-- Manny Lawson, Cincinnati Bengals: Lawson has started each year in the NFL, the first five with San Francisco and last season with the Bengals. The 6-5, 240-pounder posted a career-best 6.5 sacks in 2009. He transitioned to a 3-4 scheme in Cincinnati.

Three Outside Linebackers Available In NFL Draft

As of March 12, 2012; names listed are in no particular order

-- Courtney Upshaw, Alabama: Regarded as the top pass-rushing linebacker in the draft, Upshaw started the last two years for the Crimson Tide. His 6-1, 272-pound frame should make him a good fit as a 3-4 linebacker. Overall, he posted 140 tackles (including 35.5 for a loss), 16.5 sacks, one interception and four pass break-ups.

-- Nigel Bradham, Florida State: Listed at 6-1 and 237 pounds, Brown has shown fluidity and movement as a cover linebacker despite a thick, muscular build. A weak-side linebacker at Florida State, he compiled 85 tackles all three years he started for the Seminoles and added nine sacks, three interceptions and 11 pass break-ups.

-- Zach Brown, North Carolina: Brown is 6-1 and 236 pounds and is a Columbia, Md., native. He impresses in pass coverage – his speed in college was good enough to allow him to compete on the track team. Brown had a standout senior campaign at North Carolina, recording 105 tackles, 5.5 sacks and three interceptions.