Anyone who was a Redskins fan in the '90s is sure to remember our former outside linebacker Ken Harvey. As part of his work with Diageo promoting responsible drinking, he was kind enough to answer some of my questions via email. Below you can read Ken's answers to my questions on the state of the Redskins defense.
Staying Medium: As a pass rusher, how important was strong defensive line play to your success? On a related note, do you think Brian Orakpo would have been more successful this year had the Redskins been able to squeeze the pocket more from the nose tackle and right defensive end positions, so quarterbacks would not have had as much room to step up and escape Orakpo’s edge pressure? Or is it the rusher’s responsibility to get to the quarterback regardless?
Ken Harvey: I think you have answered the question yourself. The D line is of the utmost importance because a 3 -4 is designed for the backers to make most of the tackles. As far as Orakpo, pass rushing, it is about timing and you try to hit the corner as a certain spot knowing that the quarterback is going to be there. He also has outside containment and so you can’t just make inside moves whenever you like. When the QB is allowed to step up, it disrupts timing and throws things off. With that said and done, your job is to get to the QB so you make adjustment to your game.
SM: Orakpo has notoriously been the victim of many holds this year, both called and uncalled. Is there a technique to avoiding and/or escaping holds that Orakpo needs to learn, or should we just consider it a tribute to his pass rushing prowess?
KH: It is a tribute to his pass rushing prowess. You are taught to tighten your rush when you come around the corner and so people are going to hold. It may depend on the offensive player on the different moves he can try. If the lineman uses his hands a lot but does not have good balance, hand moves can work and they have for him but most lineman don’t have balance problems and so you have to engage them. When your team is winning, Refs tend to call holding call more as they are on TV more and in the spotlight more.
SM: In my opinion Orakpo has struggled a bit against the run as a stand up linebacker. What advice would you give him to improve at shedding blocks by tight ends?
KH: That is very observant of you, a lot has to do with foot work and how he positions himself. I was taught to angle my toes inward just a bit to give myself a split second quicker push off and ability to move as the tight end moves. He will pick it up but it takes time. It took me a few years to get good at it. As far as shedding blocks, that will come with practice. The quick he reads and feels comfortable at his new position, the quicker he can get off the block.
SM: In Greg Blache’s defense Chris Wilson subbed in for Orakpo regularly, and in my opinion played fairly well. But this year he has mostly gotten on the field to blitz up the middle from Jim Haslett’s multi-linebacker formations, and when Orakpo was hurt in Week 16 Rob Jackson got the bulk of the playing time at outside linebacker. Are you surprised that Wilson has not gotten more playing time at OLB in the base 3-4 package? Or are there limitations to his game that cause the staff to see him as only a role player?
KH: I don’t know about limitations but even though the position has the same title, (Linebacker) there are difference skills and technique. You can be great at covering the TE, or taking on the run or even reading the lineman but there is a difference when you have someone in your face right away or if you are off the ball and have a few second to get a read.
SM: How significantly was your pass rushing game affected, from the perspectives of both your execution and game planning/play calling, when you knew the opposing running back was effective at picking up blitzes?
KH: That depends on the running back, some backs were great at picking up blitz and knew how to hide or position themselves just enough to allow the QB to make a move. I always had a hard time against Larry Centers as he would hide behind the tackle and just as I got free he would appear and attack. Emmitt Smith on the other hand was a runner and I could get past him if he had to pass rush.
SM: What is your evaluation of Lorenzo Alexander as an outside linebacker? Should he hold down that starting spot next year, or should the Redskins try to replace him and make use of his versatility as a rotational/situational player at several positions?
KH: I think Lorenzo did an excellent job this season. If you want a solid player who plays with the right attitude and heart, he is your guy. I think teams make the mistake of trying to get show but undervalue the character of the person.
SM: In your opinion, have the defense’s struggles this year been mainly due to personnel (either lack of talent or guys not fitting the new scheme) or has Jim Haslett been out-coached by opposing offensive coordinators?
KH: I think it has a lot to do with guys trying to learn a new position but I also think that some of it was coaching. Coaches have to get a feel for what the players can do and players have to get a feel for what the coaches are asking for.
SM: It seems that Rocky McIntosh has struggled as a blitzer. Is it purely a matter of his ability or does Jim Haslett need to draw up better blitzes to spring him?
KH: Like I said before, everyone is trying a new scheme and if you have to think about what you are doing, it throws you off which makes you an ineffective pass rusher. When I say think about the plays, I don’t mean that they can’t learn but more so that it is something new. You have to think that you have been trained to do something all your life and in the blink of an eye, you have to change. Try writing with your left hand. Even though you have the same tools, it is hard to do.
SM: If you could steal any player off of any other NFL roster and add him to the Redskins defense (assume the same system is maintained), who would it be and why?
KH: Not sure but maybe someone like Jamal Williams, the defense needs a good strong NT to help the whole defense.
SM: In your opinion, who is the most underrated player on the Redskins defense?
KH: Even though London Fletcher is mentioned more, he is still the backbone of the defense and an all around good guy. I saw one game where they were trying to find the player of the game and he was all over the field but because that is normal for him, he was not even mentioned in the selection.
SM: When rushing the passer, what are the keys to recognizing that the offense is actually setting up to throw a screen pass? What is the most common thing offenses do to tip off their intentions to throw a screen?
KH: Sometimes it is positioning, formation, looking at the linemen and the weight they put on their hand, that is why you watch film all week.
SM: What is your evaluation of rookie Trent Williams so far? Do you think he has the ability to be a top-tier left tackle? Where does he most need to improve?
KH: I think he has done a fine job, if you look at some of the guys he has had to go up against it is an amazing list. Experience will be his best teacher.
SM: The switch to a 3-4 defense led to greatly diminished roles for talented players like Andre Carter and Albert Haynesworth, and changed roles for many others who had played well in the 4-3. Do you think a coach’s obligation should be to design a scheme to get the most out of the talent he has on hand? Or if he has a system he believes in, is it best in the long term to adjust the personnel to fit it?
KH: It depends if the coach wants to win now with the talent he has or try to make a name from himself by getting players to fit into his scheme. I think a good coach has a good scheme but understands the value of the player and adjust what he has to fit the skill set of his talent.
SM: Tell me about the partnership between Diageo and the Redskins and what they were up to this season…
KH: Diageo and the Washington Redskins partnered with We Don’t Serve Teens this season to encourage the importance of not serving to underage teens. We ask that you make sure there are non-alcoholic beverages available to those who cannot and choose not to drink.
As the Redskins Director of Responsibility I was thrilled to help introduce the first ever Redskins Responsibility Team, where we recognized three FedExField employees for their dedicated service to the stadium and their commitment to responsible behavior.
At the last game of the year I worked alongside one of FedExField’s concessionaires at our last game of the season – many fans swung by during the 2nd quarter, where I was checking IDs.
As we head into 2011, I want to remind you to please drink responsibly. Make a game plan by assigning a designated driver, using public transportation, or reserving a taxi before heading out for the evening!
Diageo has been a corporate sponsor of the Washington Redskins since the 2002 season. They’ve been an unbelievable asset to the organization and have really helped to encourage the kind of responsible behavior we’ve come to expect from our players and our fans.