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Brian Orakpo: Individual Numbers Will Improve As Team Gets Better

By ZAC BOYER

zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

(Originally posted 8/7/12, 1:14 p.m.; Updated 8/7/12, 8:03 p.m.)

ASHBURN – Brian Orakpo had gotten used to the annual trip to Hawaii. After making the late-January flight to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl each of his first two years, he figured it was something he could count on for the rest of his career.

Orakpo

But last December, as the balloting announcements were made, Orakpo wasn’t selected. Though his numbers improved from a year before, he would merely be an alternate for his third game – and that call never came.

“I want to be a player that’s in there every year, regardless of the situation, regardless of the stats, regardless of anything,” Orakpo said. “Being an alternate? No, I want to be there every year. That’s my ultimate goal.”

Orakpo is setting out to change that this season – and, in the process, improve the defense. He had two statistically dominant years to start his career, beginning with 50 tackles and 11 sacks as a rookie in 2009 and following up with 56 tackles and 8.5 sacks a year later.

Though he had 59 tackles and nine sacks last season, the Redskins finished the season 5-11, and only inside linebacker London Fletcher, another alternate, was selected to play in the game.

When he tried to determine exactly why he wasn’t selected, he came to one conclusion: it had to be the Redskins’ lack of success.

“Winning would help, you know?” Orakpo said. “If we win some games and be a team that’s relevant, that would obviously help a lot of guys on the team, so it’s something that we’ve got to make sure we take care of.”

That, too, is why Orakpo can’t take much stock in his sack totals. It wasn’t until he had two sacks in the final game against Philadelphia that he was able to surpass his total from 2010.

Washington, though, rarely played with the lead, which meant the opponent would seldom throw the ball. If that’s not happening, Orakpo can’t sack the quarterback.

“You can’t really look at the numbers – especially with our team,” Orakpo said. “We’re not winning games, so stats really don’t mean anything. Once we start having leads and everybody get after it and start winning some ball games around here, things are gonna change, you know?”

To improve during the offseason, Orakpo worked out with Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson, with whom he was a collegiate teammate at Texas.

“What these players do is they get more comfortable with the system and the scheme and they start looking at different players and say, ‘Hey, I don’t have that move,’ or, ‘This move would work in my repertoire rather than probably just power-rushing somebody,’” head coach Mike Shanahan said. “He’s saying, ‘Hey, what can I do to maybe get three or four more sacks?’”

Orakpo considered trying to improve his pass rush by incorporating different moves, but ultimately decided that technically breaking down his game and not playing by instinct could be detrimental.

Still, he’s taking a smarter approach to this season. His pass coverage, for one, has always been a weakness, so he’s trying to pay more attention to his footwork while keeping an eye on the quarterback. If he can stay on his toes when the quarterback sets his feet, he believes that can give him an advantage.

“I mean, I didn’t really have a problem in the past,” Orakpo said. “It’s just learning from other guys that are very good at it. You know, you always try to learn from some other guys and what they see out there to try to kind of help your game as well.”

And, in turn, help the Redskins – and earn that ticket to Hawaii.

“I felt like I can get better,” Orakpo said. “I’m going to continue to progress as a football player and as a better overall linebacker, and always, you know, help my game in every aspect that I can to be a great player.”

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