Not only is Orakpo the Redskins’ best pass rusher, he’s arguably the team’s fiercest competitor. From the start of his rookie season, the fourth-year Pro Bowler established himself as a leader in the locker room while playing through pain that would sideline other players, teammates say.
Before the 2010 season, the Redskins scrapped their long-standing 4-3 defense, in part, because of Orakpo’s ability to pressure quarterbacks. Orakpo has proven he’s “a guy that can do it all,” Coach Mike Shanahan said Monday while announcing that Orakpo suffered a torn pectoral muscle. “He’s very physical, very smart; team player. . . . Obviously, we’ll miss him.”
Shanahan didn’t want to acknowledge anything more publicly.
Despite Sunday’s loss to the St. Louis Rams and the Orakpo-Carriker injuries, the Redskins and their fans have maintained Robert Griffin III-inspired hope for the season. The rookie quarterback’s dynamic two-game start inspired hopeful, best-case thoughts of what might be possible.
Given how awful things were during Shanahan’s first two seasons (they were 11-21 bad), he’s not interested in throwing cold water on a season that’s just two games old. No coach would be. They’re supposed to inspire players and the fans, not ruin their fun.
Shanahan is great at projecting confidence in the toughest of times. He has had a lot of experience at it since taking on the Redskins’ rebuilding project. Not surprisingly, Shanahan led the charge again Monday, stressing the need for other players to “step up and play at a very high level.”
That’s the NFL’s next-man-up philosophy. In a league in which career-threatening injuries are commonplace, the expectation is that anyone on a roster could have to be replaced at the drop of a football.
The Redskins, though, just don’t have backups capable of reaching the level of Orakpo and Carriker. Not even close.
Nose tackle and outside linebacker are the two most important positions in the 3-4. Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield is a productive run-clogger. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who plays opposite Orakpo, is also an effective edge rusher.
But the main reason the Redskins made such a big jump last season in total yards per game (they went from 31st in 2010 to 13th in 2011) was that Kerrigan, who was a rookie, provided pass-rushing balance on the end of the line opposite Orakpo. That’s gone now.
During brief stretches, backup Rob Jackson has filled in well for Orakpo. Jackson possesses pass-rushing skills — but Orakpo is far superior to Jackson in coverage and against the run. Orakpo is just much more athletic than Jackson and Chris Wilson, who will compete with each other for the first-string job.