By Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir
As we count down to the first game of the Redskins’ season, Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler are going to be looking at some of the big questions facing the team and attempting to look into their crystal balls and answer them.
Question 13: Can Brian Orakpo post 15 sacks?
The background: In 2009, linebacker Brian Orakpo had one of the best rookie seasons in Redskins history as he posted 11 sacks and was selected to the Pro Bowl. While he has played very well since then he has yet to become the dominant pass rusher that many believed he can become. Orakpo has 8.5 and 9 sacks in his last two seasons, respectable totals but not elite. He enters a pivotal season where he can either climb up into that top level of pass rushers or continue to be above average.
Tandler: This is partially up to Orakpo and partially up to the guys on the other side of the ball. For his part, Orakpo needs to deal with being doubled and to develop some new moves in his repertoire. But what will help him the most is playing with a lead. The Redskins have ranked 25th and 26th in the NFL in scoring the last two years. If Robert Griffin III, Pierre Garçon and company can put the ball in the end zone a few more time a game that will force the other team to pass more. When a defense knows what’s coming and doesn’t have to worry about defending the run, pass rushing gets a whole lot easier. Griffin and the offense should be able to hold up their end of the bargain and with more opportunities to focus on rushing the passer Orakpo will see his sack total climb
El-Bashir: Orakpo focused on refining his pass-rushing technique and footwork, as well as studying the NFL’s great defensive ends on film this offseason. That should help the 26-year-old two-time Pro Bowler, whose nine sacks were tied for 21st last season. That’s not a significant drop off from the 11 he posted in 2009, but those numbers ought to be trending in the other direction at this point in Orakpo’s career. Although it’s probably unreasonable to expect him to amass 22 sacks, like Minnesota’s Jared Allen, or 18.5, like Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware, it’s not too much to expect Orakpo to crack the top-10, which would require at least 12 sacks. Whether he gets there, though, could hinge on how his surgically-repaired pectoral muscle holds up. It’s already cut short his preseason. Will it affect him when the games count?
20 questions in 20 days
Jammal Brown play this year?
#19 Aug.21—Will Chris Cooley make the team?
#18 Aug. 22—Can Brandon Meriweather get he job done at safety?
#17 Aug. 23—Is Garçon a No. 1 receiver?
#16 Aug. 24—Can Trent Williams go from good to great?
#15 Aug. 25—Can DeAngelo Hall be a defensive playmaker?
#14 Yesterday—Can Santana Moss regain his old form?
#13 Today—Can Orakpo post 15 sacks?
#12 Tomorrow—Will Leonard Hankerson break out?
#11 Wednesday—Can the Redskins flip their turnover ratio?
#10 Thursday—How much can Hightower contribute this year?