“Absolutely,” he said after organized team activities Thursday at Redskins Park. “My teammates know it, my coaches know it and my peers, the guys I go against, they know it. . . . The perception that’s out there man, trust me, that’s gonna change.”
There’s only one way to make it happen: Orakpo has to get more sacks. In today’s pass-happy NFL, edge rushers such as Orakpo are measured on their ability to get the quarterback. In his first three seasons, Orakpo had 28.5 sacks. That’s a solid total. It was good enough to help Orakpo earn two Pro Bowl selections.
Having solid stats, though, won’t elevate you among the stars at the league’s glamour position on defense. Also, Orakpo is seeking a big contract extension. Coach Mike Shanahan would rather find cheaper options than reward players whose production doesn’t match their salary demands.
It’s time for Orakpo to prove he’s special. After his 2012 season ended in Week 2 because of a torn chest muscle, Orakpo must return better than ever. He’ll have to pile up sacks — something in the 13 to 16 range. He needs to produce more in games against NFC East opponents. Orakpo has to convince Shanahan he’s indispensable.
The Redskins’ awful performance on defense last season should help Orakpo make his case. Without Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker, also sidelined for the final 14 games because of a torn thigh muscle, the Redskins ranked 28th out of 32 teams in total defense. They were even worse against the pass: 30th. In 2011, the Redskins finished 13th overall on defense.
The Redskins knew their secondary would be shaky. Way before the season began, the coaching staff realized it had major problems at safety. Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett were counting on a strong pass rush to help overcome the team’s deficiencies in pass coverage. Their thinking made sense.
In 2011, the Redskins finished tied for 10th in sacks. Orakpo led the team with nine and Carriker contributed 5.5. Then, Orakpo and Carriker both went down against St. Louis, and, well, so much for the Redskins’ best-laid plans. The Redskins finished tied for 23rd in sacks last season. Although Haslett was a game-planning whiz during the team’s season-closing, seven-game winning streak, you don’t have to understand the complexities of Washington’s 3-4 defense to realize the team missed Orakpo and Carriker.
Haslett is Orakpo’s biggest supporter in the organization. Orakpo doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his overall impact on the Redskins’ defense, Haslett often says. Orakpo is particularly strong against the run, “and in our scheme, we rely heavily on stopping the run first,” Orakpo said. “That’s what Haz wants us to do. Once we do that, then we get after it (rush the passer).
“I’m not rushing as much as some of those other guys (3-4 outside linebackers). And you have a lot of one-dimensional guys out there. All they do is get after it. Man, I take pride in everything I do in my craft. I take pride in getting it done on both sides and helping my teammates.”