AP Sports Writer
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -- No use mincing words about the past when looking to the future, at least that's the perspective from Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall headed into Week 1 of the NFL's regular season.
"We've been, I guess, the laughingstock of the league for a while on defense," Hall said Thursday. "So it's going to be nice to get out there with a new group of guys."
Standing at a nearby locker, linebacker Brian Orakpo overheard Hall's words and said in his booming bass voice "Laughingstock?" and added an expletive.
"Hey, Rak," Hall called out to his teammate. "We ain't been too good."
Regardless of the past, the defense is brimming with optimism ahead of Sunday's visit to the Houston Texans. There's some new talent, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has been given the green light to run a more aggressive scheme under new coach Jay Gruden. If nothing else, Orakpo (10 sacks last season), Ryan Kerrigan (8 1/2), free agent signing Jason Hatcher (11 with Dallas) and rookie Trent Murphy (15 with Stanford) should put plenty of pressure on quarterbacks.
That's not to say there aren't reasons for concern. Orakpo has been hobbled since the third preseason game by a sprained right ankle and isn't doing much at practice, although he insists he'll be "good to go" for Sunday. Tracy Porter has a bad hamstring and is unlikely to play, leaving E.J. Biggers as the likely first option at nickel cornerback.
Then there's Bacarri Rambo, who is expected to start at safety while Brandon Meriweather serves the first half of a two-game suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit.
Rambo has barely arrived in the NFL, but he's already been given the full roller-coaster experience. The sixth-round draft pick from Georgia was the surprise of training camp a year ago when his ball-hawk skills won him a Week 1 starting job as a rookie.
The only problem: He couldn't tackle. Embarrassed repeatedly in open field, his stock plummeted over a four-week span, from starter in Week 2 to substitute in Week 3 to DNP (did not play) in Week 4 to inactive in Week 5.
"I hit adversity," Rambo said. "And it made me a better player."
Rambo was getting some playing time again by the end of the season, and his tackling technique was a focus of this year's training camp. He worked on taking better angles and wrapping up. Some days were better than others, but at least it was an improvement.
"I'm very prepared," he said. "Mentally, physically, it's a whole different guy than it was last year, it's night and day. It's like I'm not as worried or frustrated or stressed or thinking a lot. It's like I'm more confident in myself this year."
Teammates and Haslett applauded Rambo's improvement, but there's no doubt that Meriweather's absence has affected the game plan for Sunday.
Meriweather is a natural strong safety, and free agent Ryan Clark is custom fit at free safety. Rambo, however, feels more comfortable at free. Haslett says the two will be interchangeable, with Rambo relying heavily on the veteran Clark to make sure they're in the right place.
"We're going to do a couple of other things through the course of the game," Hall said, "as far as bringing other guys (in) and really trying to use guys to their strengths. It's going to be a lot of guys kind of in and out, so it's going to be fun."
Note: Orakpo went to high school in the Houston area, and it's one of the schools that had to drop the nickname "Redskins" because of a new policy in the area that banned mascot names associated with cultural stereotypes. The Lamar High School "Redskins" are now the "Texans." ''A lot of teams actually dealt with the whole controversy with the name change; my school was one of them," Orakpo said. Asked how he felt about the change, he said: "I really had no feeling. It's something they had to do, they wanted to do, I guess, so there ain't really much I can say about it. I mean, I've still got to root my school on, regardless of what name they are."
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