The return of Brian Orakpo is expected to give the Redskins' pass rush from the right side a big boost.
But it could also make a major difference on the left side, since Orakpo’s presence makes Ryan Kerrigan better, too.
Last season, Kerrigan registered a career-high 8.5 sacks, returned an interception for a touchdown and made his first Pro Bowl appearance. ProFootballFocus.com also had the 24-year-old with more quarterback hurries (51) than any other 3-4 outside linebacker.
But there were some challenges along the way for the former first round draft pick.
After Orakpo was lost for the season in Week 2 with a torn pectoral muscle, Kerrigan’s sack totals were inconsistent from week-to-week. In some games, the Redskins’ game plan required Kerrigan to drop back more in pass coverage, thus reducing the number of opportunities he had to get after the quarterback. But he also became a focal point of opposing teams and, as a result, faced an increased number of double teams and chip blocks from tight ends and running backs.
Although Kerrigan notched 1 ½ sacks in the two games immediately after Orakpo got hurt, he had a stretch of five games where his only sack came against a wide receiver attempting a pass. There was another three-game span late in the season where he did not record a sack.
But the hope is that with Orakpo, a two-time Pro Bowler, lining up across from Kerrigan next season, teams will once again have to account for pass rushing threats from both sides, creating more opportunities for one or the other.
“We feed off each other for sure,” Kerrigan said. Orakpo is “going to be great for our team to have back, too.”
Indeed, the Redskins amassed the 23rd most sacks (32) last season, down from 41 in 2011.
Orakpo’s return will also ramp up the friendly competition between the two linebackers, according to nose tackle Barry Cofield.
“It’s going to be a great help,” Cofield said. “Orakpo will take some attention away from Kerrigan and it’s someone for him to chase. That friendly competition exists. Everyone wants to lead the team in sacks and be in the backfield celebrating and enjoying the spotlight. They’ll feed off of each other, make the other’s life easier and, in turn, the whole defense will operate better.”
Added Kerrigan: “Obviously, we each want to get the sack respectively. But we know the more pressure and the more hits on the quarterback that one guy gets, that will lead to more for the other, as well.”
Kerrigan also hopes that another year of experience will give him an additional edge.
“I’m feeling really comfortable in the defense,” he said. “I know the playbook. It’s fine tuning things and refining now.”