Over the next few weeks, CSNWashington.com’s Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2013 and evaluate the outlook for 2014. This morning, we’re going to examine the situation at outside linebacker. This afternoon, we’ll take a look at possible solutions, so be sure to come back.
2013 starters: Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan
Reserves: Rob Jackson, Darryl Tapp, Brandon Jenkins
Free agents: Orakpo, Jackson, Tapp
Rewind: After missing all but two games in 2012, Brian Orakpo returned to the field and made a significant impact for the Redskins’ middle-of-the-pack unit. Orakpo was solid against the run, made strides in coverage and, with 10 sacks, reached double-digits in the key metric for outside linebackers for the first time since his rookie season.
Kerrigan, meantime, enjoyed a solid season on the opposite side, matching his 2012 sack total (8.5) while recording 40 quarterback hurries, the fifth most among 3-4 OLBs according to ProFootballFocus.com. After the season, it was revealed that Kerrigan had been playing with a torn meniscus in his left knee since Week 3.
The Redskins hoped to get more from Jackson after a breakout performance in 2012, but a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL’s drug policy at the start of the season limited his impact.
Jenkins battled an ankle injury early in his rookie season and ended up playing in four games on defense. He made little impact at linebacker (one assisted tackle) and even less on special teams. Tapp, meantime, played 86 snaps in 11 games and recorded 10 combined tackles and a sack. He was also inactive twice.
Overall, the Redskins got 21.5 sacks from outside linebackers in 2013, which was up from 17 the previous season.
Fast forward: Orakpo proved in 2013 that his twice-torn pectoral muscle is no longer a concern and that he can be the pass rushing force everyone expected him to be. The question this offseason is whether, at 27, he deserves to be paid like an elite rusher or simply a very good one. It’s not an easy question to answer considering Orakpo’s occasional inconsistency. For example, he registered zeros across the board in both Dallas and Denver. Then in Weeks 10-13 he was arguably the Redskins’ best player, registering 5.5 sacks and 17 tackles.
Kerrigan has obviously proven to be star-in-the-making on the opposite side. Many expected 2013 to be a breakout season but it turned out to be merely a solid one as he coped with a nagging knee injury. With good health and increased experience, the belief is that he'll continue to improve in all areas.
Jackson is the team’s best backup at the position and figures to be re-signed. His suspension put a drag on his stats and it figures to do the same to his value on the open market.
Unlike most positions, the Redskins possess an adequate amount of talent at outside linebacker (assuming, of course, Orakpo is re-signed). The challenge going forward is cultivating and maximizing the talent already on the roster, a job that belongs to recently hired OLB coach Brian Baker. Baker's task will be to help Orakpo become a more consistently disruptive force, help Kerrigan reach 10, 11 or even 12 sacks and, perhaps most importantly, find a way to get a raw-but-able Jenkins on the field. The primary pieces appear to be in place. Now it's just a matter of pulling it all together.