October 22, 2010

Brian Orakpo Is Breaking Out This Week

My bi-weekly column for SB Nation DC. Stay tuned this weekend for my coverage, analysis, and a prediction for Sunday's game against the Bears.
Oct 22, 2010 - The dreaded sophomore slump can destroy any promising, young NFL career, but if a second-year veteran can build upon a successful rookie campaign, the sky is the limit. For Brian Orakpo, it's clear he can be a presence on defense for the Redskins. The question, however, is just how much of a presence he will be.
Orakpo is a fine pass-rusher. He has five sacks, 19 tackles, and a forced fumble in six games, making him one of the more valuable pieces in this Redskins defense. Let's also not forget the holding penalty he drew against Alex Barron to beat the Dallas Cowboys in week one. In fact, Orakpo has been blatantly held at least once in every game this season, preventing him from adding to his sack totals.
But as solid as he has been, Orakpo has yet to set himself apart as an elite sackmaster this season. He is undoubtedly the best rusher on the team, but I am waiting to see him take over a game Clay Matthews style. Last year, Orakpo got some face time after a dominant four sack performance against the Oakland Raiders, and a similar outing this week against the Bears will raise his profile once again.
Orakpo's potent combination of size, speed, and strength makes him the perfect fit as a pass-rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Last season, he split time between OLB and defensive end in a 4-3 and it was clear he looked his best going after the quarterback. The rookie from Texas notched 11 sacks and emerged as bright star on a defense desperate for playmakers.
Heading into 2010, expectations were high for Orakpo to become a top-flight pass rusher, especially after Jim Haslett entered as the new defensive coordinator. Haslett has placed an emphasis on pressure and turnovers, meaning Orakpo is in on more opportunities to hit the quarterback. The Redskins have begun to employ him predominantly as a pass rusher at OLB in a 3-4 scheme where he can wreak havoc in opponents' backfields. 
The transition has been a rocky one for every player on the defense, but Orakpo has been one of the few to really stand out thus far. He needs a standout performance to take the next step as a playmaking force and this week he has a prime opportunity to take over on the field.

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