Jim Haslett says Brian Orakpo can become an elite linebacker for Redskins

Brian Orakpo this week publicized his goals of establishing himself as an elite linebacker this year, and on Wednesday, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said that the fourth-year pro’s goals are definitely realistic.

Orakpo has spent the offseason working to further develop his game, not only as a pass-rusher, but as a run-stopper and in pass coverage as well.

Despite leading the Redskins in sacks in each of the last three seasons, Orakpo has only recorded double-digit sacks once in his three NFL seasons. Orakpo said that numbers don’t always tell the full story, but Haslett said if the linebacker makes minor tweaks to his game, those double-digit sack totals will come.

“It’s more just the little things,” Haslett explained. “He’s missed sacks because of bad angles. He’s missed sacks because he gambled a couple times. He has the ability to be in the elite [company] with all those guys. He’s that type of guy. He’s powerful, he’s got speed, tight ends have a hard time blocking him. I tell you what, I think he’s going to up his game because he wants to. He wants to get up there in those double-digit sacks.”

Another aspect that could help Orakpo become even more of a playmaker is the continued development of fellow outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Last season, the two showed signs that they can eventually develop into a dominant duo.

The majority of the season, Orakpo rushed from the right side, while Kerrigan lined up on the left edge. This year Haslett envisions more versatility out of the pair. There will be times when the two flip-flop sides with Orakpo moving to the left edge and Kerrigan to the right. In addition to making the defense less predictable, Haslett says that strategy could enable the Redskins to better exploit their opponents’ weaknesses and create more mismatches.

“I think you have the ability to do that with those types of guys and find the good matchup based off their skills and try to take advantage of that,” said Haslett before adding that this year, Kerrigan and Orakpo have staged a friendly sacks competition. (Last season Orakpo posted nine sacks while Kerrigan added 7.5).

“I think [Kerrigan] and [Orakpo] have a little competition, so that’s a good thing,” the coordinator said. “I think competition is good in all aspects, whether it’s safety, corner, linebacker, upfront. We’ve got some good depth. I think the whole team, there’s more depth and competition on the roster, and starting jobs, and that makes you better.”

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.

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