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David Elfin On Sports: Kerrigan’s Debut Comes On Emotional Day

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Credit: Larry French/Getty Images

Credit: Larry French/Getty Images

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How long is a decade? Ryan Kerrigan, who’ll make his NFL debut on Sunday as the Washington Redskins’ left outside linebacker after an All-American senior season at Purdue, was taking a test in seventh grade social studies when the 9-11 attacks happened.

On the eighth anniversary of 9-11, former All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo took part in his final practice before his NFL debut against the New York Giants, his first all-out game as an outside linebacker.

Sunday as the nation commemorates the 10th anniversary of 9-11, the football teams representing the cities that were attacked, New York and Washington, will open the season at FedEx Field. Kerrigan and Orakpo will be the Redskins’ outside linebackers.

“It’s going to be fun and an honor representing Washington in this game,” said the 23-year-old Kerrigan.

“Preseason to the season, the speed changes,” said Orakpo, 25. “Ryan’s going to learn that on Sunday. You’re gonna have all kinds of ceremonies going on, it’s the opener so there’ll be a lot of stuff in your head and you don’t wanna mess up. I’ll tell Ryan, ‘Just go out there and play like you been doing throughout the preseason, just play your game, have fun and be relentless.’ ”

That figures to be even harder off the bat for Kerrigan than it was for Orakpo, who didn’t have a lockout cancel his offseason learning and didn’t miss nine days of his rookie training camp with a balky knee.

And yet, Orakpo still doesn’t remember his debut fondly and not just because the Redskins lost to the Giants 23-17.

“It was my first time playing the position (other than preseason),” Orakpo recalled. “I’m kinda feeling a little out of place, trying to get my feet wet. It’s way harder playing in space, trying to make open-field tackles, dropping back in coverage, getting your calls right, your run fits. I was kinda all over the place at the beginning.”

That’s just how Kerrigan might be on Sunday despite a solid three-game preseason (seven tackles, two sacks and two hurries) before being rested in the finale with the rest of the regulars.

“The guys have confidence in me and I have confidence in myself,” Kerrigan said. “I definitely know it will be a faster game, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Kerrigan will be the third straight first-round draft choice to start his opener for the Redskins – a franchise first during at least the last half century, following Orakpo and offensive tackle Trent Williams (2010).

Jim Haslett knows that there will be bumps in the road for his prized rookie, but the defensive coordinator is looking forward to seeing Kerrigan’s first big step.

“It’s going to be an ongoing process with him,” Haslett said. “But he’s a very bright kid, picks things up fast. He’s got good football savvy. Sure he’ll make some mistakes, but he makes them 100 miles an hour. That’s the thing you like about him. Nothing rattles him. Something new comes, he might do something poor, but it doesn’t faze him. He goes on. He learns from it.”

On what will surely be an emotional Sunday in Landover, we’ll all really start learning about Kerrigan.

David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.

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