When Brian Orakpo and the Washington Redskins kick off the season against Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on Sunday, the game will mark the first time since 2005 that the linebacker has played in his home town.
Orakpo was only a freshman at Texas back then. The Longhorns crushed Colorado, 70-3, to capture the Big 12 Championship. Orakpo recorded a tackle for a loss. Now nine years later, Orakpo looks to help Washington open the season on a strong note.
Orakpo said he’ll try to treat the game just like any other game. He will have a large cheering section, however, as family and friends have all put in ticket requests with him.
“They better not wear any Texans stuff,” Orakpo chuckled.
A sprained ankle has limited Orakpo in practice this week, but he says he has “no worries” about his availability for Sunday. He’s going to play.
Although this represents a big game for Orakpo because it’s both the season opener and his homecoming, he has a lot riding on every contest this year.
The sixth-year pro became a free agent this past offseason, but Washington used the franchise tag to retain his services — locking him up for an additional season on a $11.455 million contract. Orakpo can set himself up for a lucrative, long-term deal this coming offseason with a strong campaign for Washington.
But Orakpo has his focus trained squarely on the Texans.
Getting to the quarterback ranks at the top of Orakpo’s to-do list. But he and his teammates know that they must also hold Texans running back Arian Foster in check.
“Foster is a very patient runner,” Orakpo cautions. “One thing we cannot take for granted as far as getting out of our gaps and getting out of our play. We have to be very fundamentally sound. He’s a guy that’s very patient, he knows what he’s capable of and isn’t going to try to do more than he’s capable of. He’s going to hit holes when he needs to, and his vision is remarkable.”
If the Redskins can contain Foster, who on Sunday makes his comeback from an injury-shortened 2013, then that puts more pressure on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and gives Orakpo more opportunities for sacks.
After recording a sack and a quarterback pressure in three abbreviated preseason performances, Orakpo said he looks forward to playing a full game so he can settle into a rhythm and get a feel for the opponent he’s going against — this week Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown.
“It gets fun,” Orakpo said about the chance to play a full game now as opposed to a couple of series as in the preseason. “The first quarter is kind of hard because you’re trying to get a feel for what they’re going to run. But as the game goes on, you’re starting to know different formations, different plays and their run-pass-read concepts. As the game goes on, you get to try different stuff, maybe switch me around, switch sides if you need to. We have a lot of flexibility, so we look to use that this game.”
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