The focus at Redskins Park this spring has been on quarterback Robert Griffin III, the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year who can’t practice while continuing to recover from knee surgery but has held a nationally-viewed press conference every Thursday.
The fuss over RGIII has allowed Washington’s most prominent young player before his arrival, two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo to make a relatively quiet return to the field for the first time since suffering a season-ending torn left pectoral muscle last Sept. 16 in St. Louis.
“I feel fresh,” Orakpo said. “I feel great. I’m 100 percent. They’re not holding me back. I’m out here doing my thing. It [stinks] to miss a year, but when you miss a year, you get to rejuvenate your body, let everything else that was nagging you heal up [too]. It’s kind of a gift and curse.”
During Washington’s penultimate organized team activity session last Wednesday, coach Mike Shanahan made a point of telling Orakpo how good it was to have him back.
“I said, ‘I just love the way you’re playing. I love your energy, your attitude,’ “ Shanahan said he told Orakpo. “You can tell that he’s giving it everything he has and really practicing at a very high level.”
Orakpo, who was part of Washington teams that averaged a miserable 5-11 record during his first three seasons, isn’t jealous of his teammates, who – in his absence — won their final seven games and the Redskins’ first NFC East title since 1999.
“I was happy for the guys,” Orakpo said. “The offense was rolling. We hadn’t had an offense like that ever since I’ve been here. That’s why I was kicking myself that I wasn’t able to play with Griffin and [record-setting rookie running back Alfred Morris] and the rest of the guys.”
Griffin got to play with Orakpo for less than six quarters last season and who avoided being chased by the Texas senior when he was a Baylor freshman because the former had a knee injury. The quarterback is looking forward to really seeing what the man who makes his millions for sacking other team’s passers can do.
“Rak’s been great,” Griffin said after OTAs finished last week. “It was tough to see him on the sideline the whole year. He’s done a good job coming back from his injury 100 percent. He’s been firing off the ball. He’s explosive, he’s very excited to be back, and it [shows] every day in practice because he’s out there busting his butt.”
The injury to his pec was his third to that area of his body in nine months, but the 26-year-old Orakpo isn’t worried about hurting it yet again.
“It was a different ligament in the pec,” he said. “If you have a knee injury, you have all types of ligaments — MCL, ACL, PCL. I basically hurt some different ligament in the pec. It was just a freak accident. Maybe I was overcompensating from the first time I hurt it and that ligament in particular tore off the bone.”
Rob Jackson played well in Orakpo’s place, but he recorded just four and a half sacks, less than half the 2009 first-round draft four and a half sacks, half the first-round draft pick’s average from 2009-11. The Redskins dropped from 13th to 28th on defense in his absence last season as their sacks slipped from 41 to 32 even though they had the lead for a much bigger chunk of games.
“If you can’t put pressure on the quarterback, the chances of you being a top five defense aren’t very good,” Shanahan said.
As for the chances of Orakpo remaining in Washington beyond the expiration of his rookie contract next winter, he has no plans to go anywhere else.
“I would love to be a Redskin for life,” Orakpo said. “As long as both sides take care of our business, that shouldn’t be a problem. The coaches know what I mean to this organization. We’re going to let things take care of [themselves]. I’m all about football. I’ll let my agents handle that.”
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin