Washington Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo has nearly 30 sacks since coming into the league, and he finished just outside the top 10 in pressures last season, with his 87 pressures since 2008 putting him 20th in the league during that stretch. Yet questions still surround the pass rushing ability of the former Texas product.
One of the most common ones, as asked by Hogs Haven, is simple: why hasn’t he developed?
Before we deconstruct Orakpo’s professional career, let’s backtrack to his collegiate days where he made a living beating the daylights out of offensive tackles.
I recall Orakpo at the University of Texas very well. He was cut from a different cloth than the rest of the athletes when it came to his build. He was a physical specimen known for his workout prowess, putting up freakish bench press numbers that were nearly two times better than the offensive linemen he abused, and he also possessed strong anticipatory skills which were utilized when he tried to jump the opposition’s snap count.
However, he was always a bit slow recognizing the play, particularly against the run when he was a C-gap defender and he would take himself out of the play when it was in his direction. He also lacked a variety of pass rush moves.
When he wasn’t attempting to get by with his speed rush, Orakpo had a bicep breaking bulrush that was simply unstoppable. He possessed abnormal strength acquired from constant activity in the weight room that formed a deadly combination when applied to a violent pass rush technique (the “bulrush”), one of several that the Texas defensive coaches taught their players.
The problem was that it was the only move he really knew.
In his rookie season, Orakpo’s bulrush was as effective as it was in college. It was almost as if he yelled “hulk smash!” prior to the snap and then stunned offensive tackles with the amount of power he had in his hands, pinning them on their heels and throwing them to the ground en route to 11 sacks. His sack totals in the following seasons would drop, and although he was still effective while pursuing quarterbacks, the Redskins asked for more.
Orakpo doesn’t have a great speed rush because he takes too wide of a path to the quarterback at times, and he doesn’t possess the elite flexibility so often associated with the league’s best at the position. He also hasn’t mastered the dip technique when administering the speed rush, which would require him to dip his inside shoulder so he can’t be hooked like was often last season.
In addition to his lack of flexibility and development of technique, he hasn’t really been able to develop a move to threaten the inside shoulder of the pass blocker even though he’s flashed it at times.
This is a significant issue that has been detrimental to Orakpo’s development based off of my watching because it has essentially made him one dimensional. Although many preach that pass rushers need to have a plethora of moves in their arsenal, it is my opinion that instead of variety, a pass rusher can have a consistent counter move that complements his go-to move.
Orakpo can solve this issue by developing a counter rip move. The counter rip, which is done very well by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Adrian Clayborn, is a move that develops outside like a speed rush with the rusher taking strong steps to the outside that force the blocker to kick-slide wide.
Once the blocker widens out, Orakpo would club (strike the blocker with his inside arm) the blocker’s inside shoulder to knock him off balance in the opposite direction prior to taking a direct and inside path to the quarterback. Clayborn excels at this, especially when he sells the speed rush by dipping his shoulder and sinking his hips before delivering the club.
It would also benefit Orakpo to master his speed rush because it would make him more effective, and enable him to convert speed to power when transitioning to the favored bulrush. This would be deadly and help take him to the next step and become an elite pass rusher.