Texas ex Brian Orakpo is tearing up the NFL in his first season with the Washington Redskins, already with 7 sacks midway through the year. The Washington Post gets some good quotes from Redskins coach Jim Zorn, Texas coach Oscar Giles, and former teammate Rashad Bobino about Rak’s transition to a hybrid defensive end/linebacker.

Link: Redskins’ Orakpo finds success at two positions

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Vondrell McGee gets the opening week start, is he the answer at running back?

Vondrell McGee gets the opening week start, is he the answer at running back?

So we know what we know about this year’s team (channeling my inner Aflac commercial). Texas has a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, experience at every position excluding tight end and Will Muschamp is a deity. We got it.

But what don’t we know? Even with the high expectations, there are some unanswered questions that could grow into concerns as the season moves forward.

1. Will a running back step up?

The same question was raised prior to last season. The question went unanswered all season, and Texas still was one second away from playing for a national title. Heading into the offseason, and into spring practice, the word was Cody Johnson had stepped up and was ready for 20+ carries a game.

That was four months ago. The week of the game, it appears the team is exactly where they were one year ago. Vondrell McGee will get the first look, Fozzy Whittaker is showing flashes of talent when he isn’t hanging out with the training staff and Cody Johnson is great in short yardage but not in shape enough to handle the load.

The loan difference is new comer Chris Whaley. The true freshman was given every opportunity to take the starting spot, but his weight and the adjustment to big time D-1 football is proving tough.

Texas may not have to run the ball to be successful, but Mack Brown sure wants to. If this team can establish a run game in Lubbock who knows what would have happened. McGee has the talent to be the lead back. The question is will Greg Davis stick with him consistently enough for him to prove it. I’m not sure Davis, or Brown, know the answer.

2. Can Texas play without a tight end?

If a team is going to have a string of tough injuries, it might as well all happen at one position. Especially at a position that last year’s group proved they didn’t need for the majority of snaps. But the loss of Blaine Irby, DJ Grant, etc., etc. may give Texas no choice but to play without a tight end.

Despite the success of last season’s offense, the Longhorns need to be able to line up with a tight end in passing and rushing situations. Without the option teams will know what kind of play is coming by the personnel that are on the field. Texas is too good for most teams on its schedule to compete either way, but in the big games the Longhorns need the flexibility. Especially with an offensive line that has proven to be road graders in the run game.

Dan Buckner has stepped up. And Greg Smith is still around to block and deflect balls to the other team. But neither is an all around tight end that can block and stretch the defense. The Longhorns offense works best with a pass catching tight end, so Buckner is the odds on favorite to win the job. But he has never had to block at this level, and it hasn’t been proven he can stay healthy while taking on defensive ends and linebackers on a play to play basis.

Texas will field a good offense either way, but without the threat of a tight end they simply can’t be one of the best two teams in the country.

3. Is the lack of depth at defensive tackle a real concern?

For most teams in the country this would be an easy yes, but in the Big 12 I’m not so sure. And how bad can the depth really be when you’re Texas? Most fans, and coaches, around the country would kill for Lamarr Houston, Ben Alexander and a couple of big time recruits to enter the season at defensive tackle.

Texas has been spoiled at the position over the last decade. It seems like every year Texas has two or three big guys in the middle that are sure fire NFL guys. The difference this year is the fans aren’t aware of the other two yet. Meet Kheeston Randall and Calvin Howell. These two young guys have the talent, and Randall has the years in the program to make a splash. Howell isn’t ready to compete every down, but he can help out in spots. That is four guys right there that can give you snaps, and one of them is an all-conference caliber player in a conference where maybe two teams try to run up the middle on a consistent basis.

If that is the biggest question mark for the defense, Big 12 coaches are in trouble.

4. Are Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho ready?

Roddrick Muckelroy won’t leave the field. Jared Norton is a senior, and will anchor the middle, but what about the other outside linebacker spot? And maybe more importantly, who will play in nickel packages?

The answer to both questions is either Robinson or Acho. It may be both. The two sophomores are battling for the starting spot with Robinson slightly out in front. Robinson is an aggressive player with the athleticism to play the pass as well as anyone in the linebacking unit. That strength may make him the starter because of the types of offenses Texas faces on a consistent basis. Acho is a smart player with the ability to blitz. Sounds like a Muschamp guy to me.

Norton has struggled on passing downs. He has also struggled with injuries this preseason. If one, or both, of these guys step up when the real games begin the Longhorns will be in excellent shape.

5. Can Texas replace the leadership of Brian Orakpo, Quan Cosby and Roy Miller?

Yes, Texas has Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley on offense, but what about defense? Sergio Kindle is the best defensive lineman, but he is admittedly not the public speaking type. Muckelroy leads the linebacking unit, but he does it quietly. And the guys in the secondary are finally comfortable with the layout of the campus.

So who is the guy? Muschamp says Lamarr Houston and Earl Thomas. I think Houston emerges this season as one of the best players in the conference. And I think Thomas plays so well the chatter of leaving early starts, well early. And both of those predictions are based on Muschamp’s perceived leadership out of the two.

It is hard to be a great player without being a great leader. It is not impossible, but I think it is hard. Houston has the ability when he is healthy. Thomas has improved a ton from last year to right now. The talent is there, if the leadership competes with what the Longhorns have on the offensive side of the ball then the comparisons to the 2005 championship team may be fair. If no one steps up, Texas will drop a game they shouldn’t.

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Brian Orakpo has agreed to a deal with the Washington Redskins. Terms of the deal to come later.

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Posted July 14th, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Feature, Football

Will Keenan Robison blow up at linebacker in 2009?

Will Keenan Robison blow up at linebacker in 2009?

Football has become a 24/7, 365 days a year sport. We talk about football in the fall. We watch the spring games in April. And we even follow recruiting with the fervor of a Saturday night in Baton Rouge.

But the one aspect of college football that is overlooked is the work done in the summer with 7-on-7 workouts. Vince Young and the 2005 Championship team proved that chemistry and timing built in the summer can propel a team to the top. After a near perfect season in 2008 Colt McCoy and the Texas football team are looking to duplicate the blue print of the last team to make it to the Rose Bowl and win.

The similarities of this year’s team to the 2005 squad are alarming and are sure to be talked about like McCoy and Jordan Shipley’s fishing plans.

Not all aspects of the game can be worked on over the summer without pads, but plenty can be accomplished. Even with more answers than questions lingering to enter this season there is room for improvement. And here are five questions that could be answered over the summer?

1. What will be the base offensive formation?

The lack of a viable tight end may force Greg Davis’ hand when it comes to “go to” formations. In the biggest games of the year, and when Texas needed to move the ball, they abandoned the tight end set for a four wide receiver spread. With McCoy’s accuracy and the depth at the receiver position having a tight end on the field may be a detriment to the team.

From a skill stand point there is no question the fourth receiver will be more talented than any healthy tight end on the roster, unless we assume DJ Grant can emerge as a catcher and a blocker in his first year at the position. Frankly, it would be unfair to ask that of Grant so the question becomes – is it more important to disguise your play calls by being multiple on offense with a tight end or is the talent difference so great that putting a tight end on the field is holding the team back?

I don’t know the answer, maybe Davis and McCoy don’t either, but a huge summer by the receivers combined with no progress from the tight ends might equal a wide open spread attack for the majority of the snaps.

2. Can Garrett Gilbert handle being the backup quarterback right away?

Anyone who has seen or followed the career of the incoming freshman from Lake Travis knows that all signs point to a successful career at Texas and beyond. But all the skill, and smarts, in the world don’t necessarily spell success as a true freshman. In a perfect world Gilbert will only see the field in controlled situations. The plan is to bring him along slowly at the end of games that Texas has in the bag.

The problem is Texas cannot be comfortable with Sherrod Harris as the primary backup. The coaches and the players love Harris but he has never shown he could carry the team if needed. And with the junior recovering from surgery Gilbert has the chance to secure the backup spot if he can prove he has what it takes on the field, in his head, and in the huddle.

Like it or not Texas is one freak play away from starting a quarterback with no experience. With Chiles at receiver the only real hope is Gilbert. There is no doubt the pressure and expectations will not be fair or realistic for the prodigy, but he should have never expected them to be. This is Texas; he’ll learn that soon enough.

3. Who will be the running back?

Realistically this could be a question that isn’t answered at all this season. Mack Brown and Major Applewhite have proven they’ll mix backs in and out as much as they deem necessary. And while they’ll do it again this year, one has to think the staff wants a “go to” guy. A lot of the inconsistencies last year can be attributed to the lack of familiarity with the backs and the offensive line. The running game can be about timing as much as anything and UT had none last year.

It is true that the full running game cannot be featured without pads, but Applewhite has shown he values pass protection and ball security over big play ability. Vondrell McGee, maybe the most complete runner in the backfield, learned this lesson the hard way when he was benched for the entire Fiesta Bowl.

McGee may be the best runner, but it is Foswhitt Whittaker that can excel in 7-on-7 drills because of his ability to catch the ball and run in space. If he can stay healthy and prove he is willing to block Whittaker may finally break out this season.

The other option is freshman Chris Whaley. All reports have the physical freak as being impressive. The coaching staff has all but said he’ll get his shot to compete, so if he can pick up the small things this summer he’ll have a huge chance this fall.

4. Who will start as the third linebacker?

Roddrick Muckelroy and Jared Norton have starting jobs locked up in the 4-3 alignment, but with Sergio moving to defensive end one of the outside linebacker spots are open. The two candidates for the position are Keenan Robinson Emmanuel Acho. Both can rush the passer and both can make plays.

The skill that may separate them, and determine who plays more, will likely who can play in pass coverage the best. This is where 7-on-7 comes into play. With the Big 12 becoming football version of the Blue Angels air show finding linebackers that can stop the run and cover the pass is invaluable. In his short time on campus Robinson has shown the ability to play the pass and that’ what puts him at the top of the depth chart at strong side linebacker.

Texas will play with five defensive backs a lot this season, and that means only two linebackers on the field. Norton, who is a prototypical middle linebacker in the 4-3, has struggled in the nickel formation so if Robinson plays well enough he may be alongside Muckelroy when teams are spread out.

5. Is the work ethic there?

For the first time in a long time Texas overachieved last season. It had more to do with expectations, but the Longhorns had a workman like feel that wasn’t the norm in the last decade. Will Muschamp has gotten a lot of credit for the attitude change, but more credit needs to go to the players and especially the leaders on the team. More than talent, UT lost some big time leaders in Quan Cosby, Roy Miller, and Brian Orakpo.

Those guys kept the young guys in check in practice, off the field, and in the locker room. Texas still has established leaders in Colt McCoy and Sergio Kindle and new leaders are stepping up like Earl Thomas. But until the team faces some adversity no one will know if the team has the backbone they showed in games against Oklahoma and Ohio State last year.

The 2005 team established that ethic in the summer with many players pointing out that they had worked too hard in June and July to let anyone beat them. If this year’s team comes out of the summer with the same feeling another special year could be on the horizon.

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Posted May 2nd, 2009 by Brian
Filed under: Draft, Football

Brian Orakpo will be an 82 rated defensive end for the Redskins in Madden 10.

Brian Orakpo will be an 82 rated defensive end for the Redskins in Madden 10.

Roger Goodell and [tag]Brian Orakpo[/tag] were still on stage at last weekend’s [tag]NFL Draft[/tag] and EA Sports already had Orakpo’s Madden NFL 10 Washington Redskins player card ready. The EA experts love his speed and power and rated him as an 82 overall. Both in real life and in the game, Rak is going to have a chance to contribute and flourish early on as a rookie playing next to Albert Haynesworth.

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Follow along below with our live thoughts and analysis during today’s NFL Draft that will take place starting at 3:00pm on ESPN and the NFL Network. You can catch our live thoughts by tuning into this page and you can also participate in the conversation.

We’ll also be embedding Twitter posts from @40AcresSports and with the hashtag #UTdraft right in with the other notes. Feel free to leave comments and questions using the live tool, but not all comments will be published. Read below for more notes on comments and how the live blog will work. Hook ’em!

Notes: Comments on the article itself will be turned off till after the game. The Writer can view all comments sent to them but only they can publish your comments for everyone to see. The “autoscroll” feature ensures you’re always shown the newest content without having to refresh or scroll your screen. Subtle sound effects alert you to new content as the writer publishes it. You can turn these features on or off by using the controls at the bottom of the Live Blog.

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Check out our projections for how this weekend’s NFL Draft will shake out below along with the picks of some of the league’s draft experts. We’ll be providing live updates on the draft and the Longhorns players who might be selected here on the site and in 140 characters or less on our Twitter account.

Here are the picks for the 2009 40 Acres Mock Draft:

  40 Acres Kiper Kirwan Gosselin Actual
1. Lions M Stafford M Stafford M Stafford M Stafford M Stafford
2. Rams J Smith J Smith M Sanchez J Smith J Smith
3. Chiefs T Jackson T Jackson T Jackson T Jackson T Jackson
4. Seahawks M Crabtree M Sanchez J Smith A Curry A Curry
5. Browns A Curry A Curry A Curry M Crabtree M Sanchez
6. Bengals A Smith A Smith E Monroe A Smith A Smith
7. Raiders J Maclin E Monroe A Smith J Maclin Heyward-Bey
8. Jaguars E Monroe M Crabtree BJ Raji E Monroe E Monroe
9. Packers M Jenkins BJ Raji B Orakpo M Jenkins BJ Raji
10. 49ers BJ Raji J Maclin M Crabtree M Oher M Crabtree
11. Bills M Oher B Orakpo M Oher A Maybin A Maybin
12. Broncos B Orakpo R Ayers B Cushing BJ Raji K Moreno
13. Redskins M Sanchez B Cushing E Brown M Sanchez B Orakpo
14. Saints R Ayers M Jenkins M Jenkins V Davis M Jenkins
15. Texans A Maybin A Maybin A Maybin C Matthews B Cushing
16. Chargers B Cushing M Oher R Ayers B Cushing L English
17. Jets P Harvin P Harvin J Maclin Heyward-Bey J Freeman
18. Broncos Heyward-Bey C Wells R Maualuga B Orakpo R Ayers
19. Bucs J Freeman J Freeman J Freeman R Ayers J Maclin
20. Lions R Maualuga R Maualuga P Jerry B Pettigrew B Pettigrew
21. Eagles K Moreno K Moreno K Moreno K Moreno A Mack
22. Vikings K Britt K Britt E Britton J Freeman P Harvin
23. Patriots C Matthews D Brow C Matthews P Jerry
24. Falcons P Jerry V Davis E Hood D Butler
25. Dolphins B Pettigrew Heyward-Bey P Harvin P Kruger
26. Ravens V Davis B Pettigrew Heyward-Bey R Maualuga
27. Colts E Hood P Jerry J Laurinaitis C Wells
28. Bills E Britton P Loadholt L English M Unger
29. Giants Z Hood C Matthews H Nicks Z Hood
30. Titans D Butler D Butler V Davis A Smith
31. Cardinals C Wells E Brown C Wells D Brown
32. Steelers M Unger M Unger A Mack E Wood
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Posted April 22nd, 2009 by BT
Filed under: Draft, Feature, Football

Name: [tag]Brian Orakpo[/tag]
Position: Defensive End
Height: 6-3
Weight: 263 pounds
Hometown: Houston, TX

Strengths: Chiseled athlete with explosive first step, he is the best pure pass rusher in the draft. Uses his hands to fight off blocks and tries to stripe the ball on every sack. Not great versus the run, but not a liability either. Tireless worker in the weight room. Absolutely destroyed OU’s Phil Loadholt when they played, who at the time was considered a first day pick.

Weaknesses: Can get swallowed by bigger tackles, maybe he is too reliant on his speed rush? Has had knee injuries for the past two years, and he tends to play high which leaves him susceptible to re-injury. Originally weighed 215, Orakpo is now up to 263; so his frame may be maxed out. Will give up several inches to NFL tackles, which really hampers his leverage. Despite all his impressive measurables, could stand to gain some lower body strength so he can drive through blockers that engage him.

Overall: Elite pass rushing talent, teams would be better served letting him be a speed rusher than trying to make him an OLB. The knee is troubling, but none of his injuries were really serious. Might get swallowed by tackles at the next level in the run game, but his burst will give him a chance to get to the QB. May not be Mario Williams, but could be Dwight Freeney.

Projection: 1st round, pick 8-15

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Texas will enter the 2009 season with national yitle hopes after a stellar 2008 campaign. In fact, [tag]Mack Brown[/tag] was pointing towards 2009 last offseason as the team he was looking forward to taking to his second title. Even with the anticipated success there are a few question marks on the field.

1. Will the offensive line play get better?

Texas struggled to run the ball late in games all of last year. Mack Brown wants that to change. So much so that all accounts point to the team spending most of the spring figuring out what needs to change. Outsiders point to scheme, but this is the same scheme that allowed [tag]Vince Young[/tag], Selvin Young, and Jamaal Charles to rack up tons of yards in 2005. The difference is Kasey Studdard, Jonathan Scott, and Justin Blalock won’t be in the starting lineup. The big guys up front have been good, but not great, and with most of them now in their third and fourth year in the program there are no more excuses. Texas’ offensive lineman must play stronger at the point of attack for this offense to be as balanced as Brown wants it to be. The Longhorns may not have a true game breaker in the backfield, but they’re good enough to do damage if given the holes. If Texas can get a running game going the offense could be the best ever at Texas. Guys like [tag]Charlie Tanner[/tag], [tag]Michael Huey[/tag], and [tag]Kyle Hix[/tag] need to step up and be as dominant as most think they can be.

2. Who is going to step up at running back?

For most of the spring [tag]Cody Johnson[/tag] was running with the first team. Texas is looking to go under center more this year, and Johnson is clearly the best downhill runner on the roster, at least until [tag]Chris Whaley[/tag] reports. Unfortunately, Johnson got hurt and will miss the spring game on Sunday. The door could be no more wide open for the likes of [tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag], [tag]Foswhitt Whittaker[/tag], [tag]Tre Newton[/tag], and [tag]Jeremy Hills[/tag]. The staff knows what they have in McGee and Whittaker. McGee is explosive and a hard runner, but doesn’t offer the receiving and/or blocking skills position coach Major Applewhite stresses in his players. A lot of people feel like the staff wants Whittaker to be the guy because of his skill set, but the little guy just can’t stay healthy. There hasn’t been a huge buzz around Hills or Newton but an eye opening spring game could set them up for playing time in the fall. The fact is somebody needs to step up because the running game is the only thing holding this offense back.

3. Who will get to the quarterback?

We all know [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag] will be on one side, but who will be the other defensive end? Texas feels like Kindle will replace the production provided by soon to be multi-millionaire [tag]Brian Orakpo[/tag], but who will replace Kindle’s? Right now it looks like [tag]Sam Acho[/tag] will get the start with [tag]Eddie Jones[/tag] and maybe even freshman [tag]Alex Okafor[/tag] getting looks on pure rushing situations. Defensive coordinator [tag]Will Muschamp[/tag] has Acho’s brother Emmanuel working at the buck end position along with starting inside linebacker [tag]Jared Norton[/tag]. More than likely it won’t matter who is on the field, Muschamp won’t allow the defense not to get pressure. How much will Texas show in the spring game is a question that can’t be answered, but with a secondary that returns all but one contributor it is likely that Muschamp will unleash the hounds this year. The question is will he apply pressure because of his personnel like last year, or will he have to do it with scheme.

4. Who’ll play in the nickel formation?

For all intents and purposes the Longhorn defense is a 4-2-5. Texas says their base is a three linebacker set, but with the offenses they face in the Big 12 more times than not five defensive backs on the field. Going into the spring there were grumblings about the perceived battle between returning starter [tag]Blake Gideon[/tag] and the message board deity [tag]Christian Scott[/tag] and who will get the snaps, but it looks like Muschamp has found an answer, and that answer is both. The speed and versatility of [tag]Earl Thomas[/tag] has allowed Muschamp to play him in the slot while keeping the brains of Gideon on the field while not sacrificing the athletic gifts of Scott. The cornerback situation appears to have already settled despite what anybody says. Right now [tag]Chykie Brown[/tag] and [tag]Aaron Williams[/tag] are locked in as the starters with [tag]Curtis Brown[/tag] and [tag]Deon Beasley[/tag] backing up. In the past it has been hard for underclassman to jump over guys with more experience but it looks like the talent of Williams is too much to overlook. The true sophomore to be has a chance to be one of the best defensive backs to come through the 40 acres if what the staff thinks about him is true. The whole formation depends on how Thomas does in the slot. If he can stay there, Texas can have three safeties on the field.

5. Who will step up and lead?

We know who the likely candidates are on offense. [tag]Colt McCoy[/tag], [tag]Jordan Shipley[/tag], and [tag]Adam Ulatoski[/tag] would figure to take charge on that side of the ball. All three levels of the defense will lose the guy most pegged as their emotional leader. The defensive line lost [tag]Roy Miller[/tag] and Brian Orakpo, the linebackers lost Rashad Bobino, and the defensive backs lost Ryan Palmer. If last year’s team taught us anything it is that leadership or the lack there of can never be overlooked. If you need any other evidence take a look at the Cowboys. From a talent perspective Kindle and [tag]Roddrick Muckelroy[/tag] would lead the charge, but both of those guys are quiet and low key by nature. [tag]Lamarr Houston[/tag] has been said to be taking charge in the front seven and Thomas has it locked in the secondary. The team keeping the momentum and mentality of last year will ultimately decide if all the goals are met this season.

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Two of my favorite things about Sports Illustrated growing up were the weekly “Sign of the Apocalypse” and “They Said It” bits in ever issue. They were a glimpse at the weird and interesting side of sports that we didn’t get to see much before we had access to the the ubiquitous freak show we call the Internet.

In this week’s issue (with “Up For Grabs” cover) two former Texas defensive linemen were featured, just another sign of the tons of Horns now playing throughout the NFL. Defensive end [tag]Brian Orakpo[/tag] had an awkward quote about he’ll fit in NFL defenses, “a versatile guy is a guy who can be very versatile.” Very well put Brian. Meanwhile, in this week’s “Sign of the Apocalypse”:

The Browns’ [tag]Shaun Rogers[/tag] reportedly wants to be traded, in part because new coach Eric Mangini didn’t say hello to at the team’s practice facility in January.

I’m sure more there’s more to the Rogers/Mangini story, judging by his quick and unceremonious exit from New York he definitely appears to be a tough person to like. You don’t have to be friends with your coaches or teammates, but someone small and petty enough to intentionally walk past you without saying high doesn’t exactly earn much respect.

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