The Titans Are Taking A Chance On Linebacker Brian Orakpo
The Tennessee Titans defense was once a feared unit when they were run by defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and had one of the best defensive line coaches in NFL history in Jim Washburn. But those days seem like eons ago. Schwartz left to be the head coach of the Detroit Lions (he since has been fired and is out of coaching currently) and Washburn is not coaching anymore as well. The players on the field aren’t the same as they used to be either. There used to be defensive ends like Jevon Kearse, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jason Babin causing havoc for the Titans. But Kearse, Babin and Vanden Bosch all ended up leaving the team via free agency. And when Babin left, it seems like he took the pressure the Titans created with him. The team has not been the same since and they have been trying to find the formula to make themselves what they once were: a feared defense. They have tried and tried again with some different players, but none have seem to be the dominant pass rusher they needed. So this offseason, the Titans went out and signed a player they thought they needed. Along with signing back outside linebacker Derrick Morgan to a four-year deal, the Titans went out and got former Washington Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. The veteran linebacker is a guy that can make some things happen and is used to playing in the 3-4 defense the Titans now run. They signed him to a four-year deal with $10.5 million guaranteed over that time. And now the Titans feel they have what they need to make it happen. But is Orapko really the answer?
Drafted 13th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, Orakpo was brought in to bring constant pressure for the Redskins. And in his first year, he was able to do so. He amassed 11 sacks in his first season and many were waiting on more to come. Now he only notched double-digit sacks one other year in his career (2013), but he is someone that defenses have to account for every time he is out there. The Titans only had 3-4 defensive end Jurrell Casey that teams had to really prepare for last season. And even though Morgan re-signed with the Titans, he isn’t exactly a pass rusher that teams fear. With Orakpo, it now takes some of the pressure off Casey to be the most dominant player on the front line. And the best thing about Orapko is he is used to playing in the 3-4 because he has been in that system his entire career. Morgan is still relatively new to the system because the Titans just switched to it before the 2014 season when they hired Ray Horton as their defensive coordinator. So with him being someone that is comfortable in a 3-4, expect the Titans to move him around some to give opponents different looks. By doing so, the Titans will create mismatches and hopefully more pressure along with that. Last season it seemed like they just could not get to the quarterback. And because of that, the secondary of the Titans struggled mightily. Hopefully Orakpo will help give opposing offenses less time to burn the Titans secondary. Orakpo is definitely a guy that changes the complexion of the defense for the Titans for the better, but he there is also some inherent risk in signing him.
Orakpo is a feared pass rusher when he is on the field, but injuries have been an issue as of late. Over the last three seasons, Orakpo has played in double-figure games only once. With what the Titans invested in him, they hope they are getting a guy that can resemble the durable player he was his first three years. If he is not able to stay healthy, the Titans really don’t have much to turn to after him. Morgan would go back to the being the lead pass rusher and there would really be no one to take the pressure off Morgan except for Casey. And at that point, the secondary would be in the same position of getting exposed as they were last season. The Titans added some solid pieces in their secondary with safety Da’Norris Searcy and cornerback Perrish Cox, but the pass rush is the key to anything they will be key to anything they will be able to do. For the Titans sake, they better hope he is healthy and able to provide some pressure. But along with staying healthy, the Titans need Orakpo to provide double-digit sacks. Sure, he created pressure and that helped the defenses he was a part of. But to be the leader and have the best effect on this team, he has to come through when he gets his chances to rush the quarterback. Kameron Wimbley was once a guy the Titans brought in to put pressure on quarterbacks. He brought pressure, but he did not do much besides waive at the quarterback on his way by him. And with that, he never registered double-figure sacks for the Titans. He was going to be a part of the Titans roster potentially this season and again be overpaid, but he decided to retire this season. Wasted money for a guy the Titans thought would be the answer.
With Orakpo present, the Titans hope they have given the defense more to work with. And with defensive genius and former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau as part of the defensive staff, the Titans have just the man to help mix things up and free Orakpo to wreak havoc. The only thing Orakpo has to do is make sure to stay healthy and come through on the chances he is given to rush the quarterback and make a big play. If he does that, he will be worth every penny the Titans paid for him. If he does not, the Titans will be looking at another guy that did not live up to expectations. If should be interesting to see how this veteran pass rusher changes this defense.