In light of recent developments, you’re right to worry about Brian Orakpo’s prospects for a long and prosperous Washington Redskins career. Orakpo’s left pectoral muscle gave out again Sunday against the St. Louis Rams and will require surgery — just 81/2 months after he was operated on for the same injury. One torn pec is bad luck. Two torn pecs are cause for alarm, especially when they belong to your best pass rusher and top all-around defender.
As London Fletcher, who hasn’t missed a game in 15 seasons (226 and counting) said Wednesday, “I’ve heard it’s a worse injury to deal with than a lower-extremity injury.” Think about that: worse than a blown-out knee. Here’s why, in the words of Rob Jackson, Orakpo’s stand-in:
“Every single snap you’re punching, using your arm, using your biceps, your triceps, your shoulders, your chest. So once you get an injury like that, it’s kinda hard to get rid of. You just need a lot of time off to make sure it’s healed 100 percent.”
Problem is, Orakpo had a lot of time off after the first torn pec — the entire offseason. It took all of two preseason games to tweak it again. So he sat out the last two exhibitions, went back to work in Week 1 and suffered another tear in Week 2. Not good. Not good at all.
I’m not trying to be gloomy and doom-y here. I’m just pointing out that these upper-body injuries can be extremely tricky — as Orakpo showed. He thought he was as good as new, and he wasn’t as good as new. And now he’s going to miss 14 games, come back next season and hope an additional 3 1/2 months of R and R will lay the issue to rest once. By then he’ll be 27, three years shy of the Big Three-O.
That, Ryan Kerrigan said, is the “silver lining in this” — if there is one. “He’ll have a long time to rehab and get ready and make sure there are no setbacks.”
Still, at a time like this, it’s hard not to think of Randy Thomas. Remember him? He was a very competent, not-quite-Pro Bowl guard for the Redskins whose career was ended by a pair of torn triceps, the first in 2007, the second in ‘09. By then he was 33, hardly ancient for an offensive lineman; but he had to call it quits — even though, in Jackson’s opinion, “he had a couple more years in him. He was still athletic and still strong. His triceps just never got right.”
Further back, Jim Lachey, one of the finest offensive tackles the franchise has had, was done in by a torn rotator cuff at the too-young age of 32. Granted, a triceps and a rotator cuff aren’t a pectoral muscle, but we’re talking about the same area of the anatomy, one that’s subjected to the same stresses and strains that Jackson referred to. The pattern is pretty well established: If you get hurt there, it could be the beginning of the end.
We all know the impact Orakpo’s injury figures to have on the current season. Since Brian entered the league in 2009, only 10 players have had more sacks than he’s had (29.5), and only one outside linebacker has had significantly more (Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware, who’s racked up a league-high 48). He and Kerrigan are “pretty much what the defense is built around,” Lorenzo Alexander said.
With Orakpo missing most of the St. Louis game — and Adam Carriker virtually all of it after tearing the quadriceps in his right knee — the Redskins had trouble getting off the field. (Read: The Rams converted 7 of 12 third downs.) “When the offense gives us a 21-6 lead,” Kerrigan said, “we’ve gotta hang on to it.”
Unless Jackson turns out to be a late-blooming Lawrence Taylor, the Redskins are going to have to rely even more heavily on Robert Griffin III and Co. to carry them. (Picture the 1966-67 Redskins, with Sonny Jurgensen and throwing the ball all over the lot and the defense giving up points as fast as he could score them.) It could be fun, sure, but it’s not necessarily conducive to winning.
But again, that’s just this season. What about next season for Orakpo? And the season after that? And the season after that? Will there even be a season after that? A torn pectoral muscle is scary stuff — scary for him, scary for the organization. I mean, it’s not like they can just draft another Brian Orakpo in the first round next year. For one thing, they don’t have a first-round pick next year. Or the year after, come to think of it.
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Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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