Brian Orakpo, center, follows through after hitting a blocking sled during Day 2 of minicamp. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Between now and training camp, Mike Jones takes a closer look at players who find themselves competing for key roles this season, or are in position battles this preseason.

Brian Orakpo entered the offseason hoping to land a lucrative, long-term contract from the team that drafted him in the first round in 2009. But instead, Washington slapped the franchise tag on Orakpo. Although not entirely happy, he signed the one-year deal (worth $11.455 million) because he didn’t want to become a distraction to his teammates.

Orakpo sees himself as an elite pass rusher. He believes his three Pro Bowl selections help validate this.

But, he will have to prove himself all over again to defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and new head coach Jay Gruden. Earlier this offseason, Orakpo got a little salty when asked about Gruden’s stance that he thinks it’s better to have Orakpo to provide a further audition for a long-term deal. But, the linebacker says he will use doubters and critics as motivation.

Orakpo and Haslett believe that the pass rusher will benefit from a change in defensive philosophies, which calls for a more aggressive approach to getting after the quarterback. After being asked to maintain containment on the edges and help out in pass coverage, Washington’s outside linebackers, according to Haslett and his players, are going to be “turned loose” to get into the backfield and disrupt quarterbacks.

Orakpo must capitalize on this change in philosophy, if it does indeed wind up coming to fruition. To earn a big pay day, Orakpo also must record more than the 10 sacks from last season. During his six NFL seasons, he has tallied double-digit sacks just twice (11 as a rookie in 2009, and then last year’s total).

It’ll be interesting to see how things play out for Orakpo, particularly following the additions of Jason Hatcher (who will line up at the defensive end spot next to Orakpo) and rookie Trent Murphy, who Haslett will move around, to help ease pressure on Orakpo and fellow bookend Ryan Kerrigan.

With Kerrigan and Murphy both under contract beyond this season, Orakpo very well could have to turn in a monster season if he wants to remain in Washington’s long-term plans.

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