With a new head coach, some intriguing free agents and a quarterback on the comeback trail, the 2014 Redskins are loaded with storylines. Between now and the start of training camp, Redskins Insiders Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir will be examining the top 30 questions the Redskins face as they get ready for the season.
Will Brian Orakpo take the next step in 2014?
Yes, the question is rather vague but that’s because it’s hard to assign numbers to what exactly would represent a good season for Orakpo. When you hear fans and analysts talk about what is needed for Orakpo to join the ranks of the elite pass rushers in the league, what you hear most often is that he needs to make game changing plays. Sacks are a must, preferably closer to 15 or 17 than 10. They’d also like to see those sacks occur late in close games. They’d like to see him force more turnovers, too. As Orakpo prepares to enter his sixth season, everyone, it seems, is asking if this is the year he’ll make the jump from very good to great.
Tandler: Last week we wrote about the factors that could help Ryan Kerrigan have a breakout season at the outside linebacker spot opposite Orakpo’s. Those same improvements, the additions of Jason Hatcher and Trent Murphy, a more aggressive scheme, and the presence of OLB coach Brian Baker, should help Orakpo, too. The key could be how well Orakpo takes to the coaching of Baker. Orakpo has never made a habit of going for the strip when he gets to the QB. Baker wants his players to knock the ball out. “That’s what we’re working on all the time, we’re working on impact plays,” said Baker. “Since I’ve been out here there has not been one time that we worked solely on wrapping up a quarterback.” If Orakpo can change the habits he has developed over his five years in NFL and get some strips he will take a big step towards that elite level. Taking advantage of the more aggressive scheme should help him get there as well. Almost every year since he came into the league as the Redskins’ first-round pick in 2009 everybody has been asking if this is the year for Orakpo to break out. It looks like he has the tools to do it this year but skepticism is warranted until he actually does it.
El-Bashir: Several factors point to Orakpo being primed for a big season. As Tandler noted, Jim Haslett has incorporated scheme tweaks specifically designed to allow Orakpo to rush the quarterback more often. In theory, more opportunities should [italics] equate to more pressures, hits and sacks. In Baker, Orakpo now has a coach whose primary job is refining and improving his technique. As we’ve said repeatedly, that’s an often overlooked aspect of player development in the pros. I’m also looking at two other factors: No. 1, it took Orakpo until about midseason last year before he completely stopped worrying about his surgically repaired pectoral muscle, and the stats seem to underscore this. The 27-year-old notched seven of his 10 sacks and six of his stuffs during a stretch from mid-November to mid-December. This year, there won’t be any early-season concerns about the pec. No. 2, don’t underestimate how badly Orakpo wants to prove his detractors wrong and, more important, secure the long term contract that the Redskins are determined to make him earn. The table is set. The team has given Orakpo all the tools he needs to join the elite rushers. But now it’s up to him to deliver. I suspect he does.