Offseason questions: Can LB Brian Orakpo stay healthy and have an impact?

Linebacker Brian Orakpo missed almost the entire 2012 season with a torn pectoral muscle. (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post) Linebacker Brian Orakpo missed almost the entire 2012 season with a torn pectoral muscle. (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post)

Brian Orakpo started the 2012 season with hopes of establishing himself as one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL. But his fourth pro campaign ended almost as quickly as it began when, early in Week 2, he re-tore the pectoral muscle that he injured in the 2011 regular season finale.

Now, as he enters his fifth season, Orakpo is looking to get back on track and try yet again to establish himself as one of the most dominant pass-rushers in the league.

To do that, Orakpo will have to record double-digit sacks for the first time since his rookie season, when he tallied 11. He had 8.5 and nine sacks in his second and third seasons, respectively. Orakpo also will have to show improvement in pass coverage, an area where he had begun to gain some comfort as last season started.

Orakpo frequently has been asked whether he can be an elite NFL linebacker. He wanted to put that debate to rest last season. Regardless of the answer, it was evident that the Redskins missed him last season.

Washington struggled to generate a consistent pass-rush. Ryan Kerrigan found it more challenging to get to the quarterback without Orakpo drawing double-teams coming off the opposite edge.

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett continuously experimented at Orakpo’s position, with Rob Jackson, Lorenzo Alexander and Chris Wilson splitting time there. At times, Perry Riley stunted to rush from right end.

Jackson did well in pass coverage, recording four interceptions (Orakpo has never intercepted a pass). Jackson had only half a sack in the first nine weeks, followed by a hot pass-rushing stretch from Weeks 11-15. But he finished the final two regular season games and the playoff match-up against Seattle without a sack, and ended the year with a total of 4.5. Alexander had two sacks.

A lack of a consistent pass-rush also hurt Washington’s struggling secondary.

How would things have turned out had Orakpo been healthy?

The Redskins hope to find out this season. At the end of the 2012 season, Orakpo was back to lifting weights and in the process of regaining his strength. He felt confident he would be healthy well before the start of training camp.

Questions will focus on Orakpo’s ability to stay healthy, whether he can take the next step in his development and become more consistent and well-rounded, and what his presence will do for a Redskins defense looking to rebound from a down year.

Follow @MikeJonesWaPo on Twitter.

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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Mark Maske · February 13, 2013