Despite his two Pro Bowl appearances, Orakpo fields similar questions every year: Are you really an elite pass rusher? What are you doing to elevate your game? Why haven’t you had more sacks against division opponents?
Orakpo understands the high expectations. The Redskins drafted him 13th overall out of Texas, and he plays in a division that boasts pass rushers such as Dallas’s DeMarcus Ware (19.5 sacks in 2011), Philadelphia’s Jason Babin (18) and New York’s Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5). Orakpo has a simple perspective on all the expectations, however.
“I don’t really care about other people’s expectations,” said the 6-foot-4, 257-pound veteran, one of only five Pro Bowl players from the 2009 draft class. “I’m my own worst critic. I just try to play my game and get better as I get older.”
Orakpo believes the criticism is actually too narrow. He reviewed every game he played last season and saw that he had flaws in many areas, not just pass rushing.
So after recovering from surgery this past winter to repair a partially torn pectoral muscle, Orakpo began working to improve his overall game.
“I’ve been working on everything,” Orakpo says. “I have been working on my hands, working with different techniques, working with different counters. . . . Instead of just working primarily on my pass rush, I want to work on everything — my run defense, pass drops, everything it takes to be an elite player.”
Orakpo fully believes achieving elite status is possible this season. The 2010 season marked his introduction to outside linebacker, when defensive coordinator Jim Haslett implemented the 3-4 defense. Last year represented a step forward for Orakpo and the rest of the Redskins’ defense. The team went from 31st in the NFL’s defensive rankings in 2010 to 13th in 2011.
In 2010 Orakpo compiled 56 tackles, 8.5 sacks, two pass breakups and one forced fumble. His 2011 line: 59 tackles, nine sacks, five pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
Though the numbers are not what they could have been, Haslett said some of the circumstances were beyond Orakpo’s control. “People forget, last year he had no offseason, no minicamp” because of the NFL lockout, Haslett said. “And he got hurt early in camp.”
Other failures were Orakpo’s fault, however.
“Just the little things,” Haslett said. “He’s missed sacks because of bad angles. He’s missed sacks because he gambled a couple of times.”
Orakpo said he missed tackles in the run game for many of the same reasons. He said he missed plays in pass coverage because of technique weaknesses. The linebacker said he often found himself “just running out there blind.”