SNYDER: Time for Brian Orakpo to fulfill rookie-year promise

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There can be a thin line between reasons and excuses, between explanations and rationalizations. But in many respects, either you get something done or you don’t, regardless of what else transpires.

When it comes to sacking opposing quarterbacks, Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo hasn’t been getting it done, at least not at the level anticipated after his 11 sacks as a rookie in 2009.

Only six NFL players had more sacks that season. Then-teammate Andre Carter and the Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware each had 11 to tie Orakpo, who made his first Pro Bowl appearance. Orakpo reached the Pro Bowl again in 2010, even though his sack total dropped to 8.5.

Perhaps the decline could be written off as a sophomore slump. Or the league making adjustments. Or Orakpo simply having a bad year. He still made impact plays without reaching the quarterback, such as drawing a holding penalty that negated the game-tying touchdown as time expired in the season-opener against Dallas.

Then the Redskins drafted Ryan Kerrigan in 2011 as a bookend outside linebacker to bring pressure from sides. That was supposed to free up Orakpo for more sacks and it worked:

He upped his total by a half-sack to nine.

“I can’t really look at the numbers, especially with our team,” Orakpo said after Tuesday’s walk-through at Redskins Park. “We’re not winning any games. Stats don’t really mean anything. Once we start having leads and we’re able to get after it and we’re winning some ballgames, things are going to change.”

That sounds like a reasonable assumption. The Redskins are 15-33 during Orakpo’s tenure. Losing teams often trail, meaning their opponents aren’t forced to pass as much, meaning there aren’t as many sack opportunities. Perfectly logical.

Except the numbers don’t support the hypothesis.

Over the past 10 years, there were only three seasons in which none of the league’s top five in sacks played for a losing team. During that span, the NFL sack leader played on a losing team five times. Defensive end Jared Allen pulled it off twice — last season when he had 22 sacks with the 3-13 Minnesota Vikings, and in 2007 when he led the league with 15.5 sacks for the 4-12 Kansas City Chiefs.

“Sometimes you just have those years,” said Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield, who was offering the ‘hard-to-get-sacks-on-a-losing-team’ theory until he thought about Allen. “I’m sure [Allen] will tell you he’s had better years when he didn’t have all those sacks. It just depends. I’m sure ‘Rak wants to have more. The numbers will come, but it’s not just about making sacks, it’s about making big plays.”

Orakpo shows the proper amount of disregard for his sack numbers, especially in relation to the Redskins’ record. He lost a total of seven games during his four-year career at the University of Texas, so collecting NFL wins is much more important to him than bagging NFL quarterbacks. Ideally, the categories would rise simultaneously, but Orakpo is experiencing difficulty in defining himself as a pass rusher.

Eleven days ago, he said more diversification was in order. “I’m trying to change it up this year,” he told my colleague Rich Campbell. “I’ve been working on a lot of different things. I know I got it in my arsenal, but I can’t be afraid to use different things,” like inside swims and spin moves opposed to his typical bull-rushes and outside speed moves.

But on Tuesday, Orakpo sounded less committed to expanding his arsenal.

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About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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