The NFL is a pressure-packed environment with players fighting every day to keep their jobs and to win games. But some are under the gun more than others. Between now and the start of training camp we’ll take a look at the players who are in the spotlight and under the most pressure to perform. Today it’s Brian Orakpo.
When the Redskins took Brian Orakpo with the 13th pick in the 2009 NFL draft it was widely believed that they got a real steal. And with two Pro Bowl appearances and 28.5 sacks in three seasons they certainly have received solid value for the pick so far.
But if the Redskins are going to get out of the basement of the NFC East and into consistent playoff contention they will need more out of Orakpo. They need him to move from being a solid player with great potential to being a great player, maybe even an elite player. Their 3-4 defense is built to pile up sacks and turnovers and it needs a star quality player at the right outside linebacker position to work to its potential.
In Orakpo’s case, “star quality” would mean getting a dozen or more sacks every year. If those come, he will be getting plenty of pressures and hurries and drawing laundry piles of holding flags (he was among the NFL leaders in the latter category last year).
Late last season, Jim Haslett was asked what Orakpo needed to do to take the next step. “I think he’s got to understand that no matter where he lines up, they’re going to have two guys on him,” said the Redskins deßfensive coordinator. “Either they’re going to chip him or they’re going to have two guys on him because they’re going to slide to him. And that’s kind of way it’s been and he gets frustrated.”
“He’s got to learn, like the other great rushers in the league, the Jared Allens or the [Dwight] Freeneys, they’re always going to have two guys on them. He’s not going to get around it and he’s going to have to learn how to beat two guys.”
Haslet had some more tips for Orakpo. “He’s going to have to learn how to work the edges a little bit more and be better under control a little bit more. I think that’ll come. He’s targeted.”
The Redskins tried to make it so that Orakpo got targeted a little less by drafting Ryan Kerrigan in the first round. Kerrigan played well, getting 7.5 sacks after the team just got one from the left outside LB spot in 2010. But Kerrigan’s presence didn’t help Orakpo much as his sack total went from 8.5 to 9.
With an offseason of work under his belt now, it is hoped that Kerrigan will take the next step and make teams pay for giving Orakpo too much attention. If opposing offenses have to split their protection to try to devote extra resources to both outside linebackers, both Kerrigan and Orakpo will benefit.
But the onus will fall on Orakpo. He is will be 26 this season and he has two years remaining on his rookie contract. Players who get double digit sacks year in and year out and can take over games when their teams need them two can make more money than players at just about any other position except quarterback.
If he can shake the double teams and make the move from good to great the payoff will be huge for both Orakpo and the Redskins.