Washington Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is aiming to be named this season's NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Orakpo declared he is targeting the award in an article by USA Today's Jim Corbett.
It is a bold ambition for Orakpo, but one still within his reach. He missed 14 games in 2012 due to a torn pectoral muscle and has been rehabbing throughout the offseason.
According to Corbett, the rehab is clearly paying dividends, as Orakpo has impressed in OTAs. When healthy, he is an extremely talented pure pass-rusher.
Orakpo is the one player on the Redskins defense opponents should tailor their blocking schemes towards. As a rookie in 2009, he tallied 11 sacks and followed that with 8.5 in 2010.
Orakpo posted nine sacks in 2011 and his edge-rushing skill was clearly missed last season. Without Orakpo, the Redskins lacked a credible and consistent pass rush.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had to go into scheme overdrive to manufacture ways to get to quarterbacks. Haslett ought to be thrilled to have Orakpo back and should turn him loose this season.
He needs to increase the blitz opportunities for his best pass-rusher. What will also help Orakpo is a steadily improving defensive line.
End Stephen Bowen and nose tackle Barry Cofield were fine free agent acquisitions in 2011. Both have become central figures on a tougher than advertised front seven.
At the other end position youngster Jarvis Jenkins appears primed to deliver on his early promise. A second-round pick in 2011, Jenkins was immediately lauded by members of the Redskins defensive staff.
Sadly, a serious injury suffered in preseason ruled Jenkins out for the entire campaign. He returned in 2012 and with slight irony, stepped in for injured starter Adam Carriker.
Jenkins gradually established himself as a force. If he is even better this season, the Redskins will boast one of the strongest three-man fronts in football.
Their ability to occupy blockers and push the pocket should free Orakpo on the outside. He is a natural power-rusher, possessing an impressive bull rush and dip move.
Orakpo certainly has double-digit sack potential in Haslett's blitz-happy 3-4 system. Having been in that scheme for three years, now is the time for him to deliver.
According to Corbett, Orakpo took note of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt in 2012, as an example of the total destruction a player must create to win the league-wide award.
That means Orakpo will have to establish himself as a regular presence in opposing backfields. More than just sacks numbers, he will have to apply constant pressure on the pocket and rushing lanes.
The more Orakpo can disrupt plays at their source, the more his influence will be noted during games. That will appeal to those who vote for league awards.
Entering a contract year, Orakpo has all the motivation he needs to deliver his best season yet. For various reasons he still has not become the dominant playmaker he looked like as a rookie.
This season he is surrounded by strong personnel up front and is his unit's main pass-rushing threat. Now is the time for Orakpo to stay healthy and produce the numbers to match his talent and justify Defensive Player of the Year consideration.