Reporting David Elfin
Forgive Brian Orakpo if he’s a little more pumped up for tomorrow’s game against Buffalo than Washington’s two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker typically would be for a third preseason contest.
After all, this will be Orakpo’s first home game since Christmas Eve 2011. The fourth-year man from Texas hasn’t suited up at FedEx Field in a staggering 608 days because he injured a pectoral muscle in the second of two road preseason games last August and then suffered a season-ending tear to the same area as the Redskins opened the regular schedule with a second straight game away from home.
“It makes the game special,” said Orakpo, who missed Monday’s game with Pittsburgh because of the bruised right quadricep he suffered during last Thursday’s penultimate training camp practice in Richmond but is expected to play tomorrow. “But it’s only preseason so I don’t want to get too excited about it. We’ve got a whole season to play.”
Sure, but a day shy of 20 months without hearing the roar of the home crowd? Orakpo said that his run of pec injuries – he also hurt that spot in the 2011 finale at Philadelphia – isn’t so odd, especially now that fellow Washington linebacker Keenan Robinson has suffered two during the past nine months.
“When I hit [Rams quarterback Sam] Bradford, it was just a routine sack,” Orakpo said. “It can happen by all kinds of variations, but the primary one is when your arm kind of gets tangled up and kind of gets hyperextended a little bit to where it kind of aggravates that pectoral muscle.”
And the 27-year-old Orakpo, who’s in a contract year, isn’t going to play conservatively in hopes of avoiding yet another pec injury.
“You’ve got to be relentless, man,” he said. “You’ve got to play this game with an edge. You’ve got to play this game [with] tenacity and not be scared because injuries happen. …. I never lose confidence in my body. I never lose confidence in the way I play.”
While Washington won the NFC East in Orakpo’s absence last year after going just 15-33 during his three healthy seasons so far, his coaches and teammates know what his ability to get to the quarterback – 29.5 sacks in 49 games – can mean to a defense that was the NFL’s third-worst against the pass in 2012.
“When Rak wasn’t there last year, the quarterback was able to hold the ball and buy time on a lot of plays,” said cornerback Josh Wilson.
“Rak’s our best pass rusher,” added inside linebacker/team leader London Fletcher. “He’s definitely a difference-maker, someone the offense has to account for. [Replacement Rob Jackson] did a great job of coming up with a lot of big plays, in particular down the stretch that led to us making the run that we made, but with Rak back, we can do many different things.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett noted that Orakpo’s presence “frees up other guys up in [outside linebacker Ryan] Kerrigan, [end Jarvis] Jenkins, [end Stephen] Bowen, [nose tackle] Barry [Cofield].”
And while Orakpo obviously wishes he had been part of Washington’s first playoff run since he was a college junior, he said some good came out of his extended time on injured reserve.
“It’s refreshing just to see from the sideline what you can be able to take advantage of once [you return],” Orakpo explained. “One thing that I noticed is that I’m a little too unselfish … [I need to be] able to tell Bowen, ‘Hey, watch out for me. I may make this move real quick, but I need you to have my back.’ I’ve always been vocal, but just being more aggressive when it comes to trusting your playmaking abilities instead of just going by what the book says.”
Whether Haslett’s going to be comfortable with Orakpo freelancing like that very often remains to be seen, but the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Houston native registered a sack in about a quarter of action against the Titans. At that pace, the Redskins will be happy to let Orakpo do his thing just the way he wants to.
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