You’ve talked about shaking off the rust. When you look back early in the season, how did you see it affecting you?
Brian Orakpo: It’s kind of hard. It’s not really rust. It is rust, but it’s more so -- I’m trying to make it easier to understand. It’s just going out there and believing. When you miss a year, your normal routine is just not the same. Going out there and playing full games, man, it’s different. That means your vision is not correct, your tackling is not up to par as you’d like it to be. Everything comes into play and you can see that. Even though I’m still feeling good, I want to do more. As the season progresses, that’s when I start to play a lot better and make more plays. That’s what I mean when I talk about getting the rust off.
Do you feel you’ve gotten your strength back?
Orakpo: Strength-wise, I felt good. I just had to trust my body again because at times I’ll be put in a position where I need to make a tackle with one arm and I wasn’t too sure. Stuff like that I wasn’t sure how my body would hold up going a full game again. You’re scared because you don’t want it to happen a third time. So you’re going out there timid at times and really not being as aggressive. But as the weeks go on you get better and better. That’s what’s happening.
Are you past that point?
Orakpo: I’m completely past that. It’s night and day as far as where I began and where I am now.
You’ve talked about how you rush more by instincts. Can you have countermoves if you go by instincts? How do you feel you do there?
Orakpo: It’s hard to say. Everyone wants the countermoves, but the way we’re predicated on rushing we don’t have a lot of options to do it because we have a lot of other obligations. The time we do have, you have to understand we have rules within the defense. It’s hard to do something outside of that because a lot of times we have a game on. We have interior guys rushing inside. We’re basically coached and taught to contain rush the majority of the time. There are times you can use that and be effective. But at times you want to go inside, you want to do stuff but you can’t because of the defense. That really goes a long way with trying to do the other stuff.
What is an elite rusher and do you feel you’re in there?
Orakpo: Absolutely I feel like I am. Absolutely. Anybody will tell you that.
What makes someone an elite rusher?
Orakpo: Just being effective when he can. We don’t rush a lot, me and Ryan [Kerrigan], like a lot of other 3-4 'backers, like people would think we do. We don’t. You want to be effective, you see a lot of 3-4 'backers… we do way more than others in the league in terms of everything. I would love to work a tackle. It’s a chess match. I’d love to work a tackle play after play. That’s not the case so the times I do go out there we will give it our all as far as getting off the ball and trying to make a play happen. Another call may change what you’re doing the next play. You don’t have time to sit there and learn what you did on the previous play on a guy. You’re very limited what you can do at times depending on the defense.
When you say you’re doing more, you mean in coverage?
Orakpo: Just from the 3-4 outside 'backer we play, it’s very different from what Terrell Suggs does in Baltimore in his 3-4 and what DeMarcus [Ware] would do in Dallas where they’re going forward at all times. We do way more than what a lot of guys are doing in the league. People need to understand that. We’re not selfish players. I could go to the coaches and say, ‘I’m tired of always dropping. I’m tired of doing this. I should be going for it. Look at all these guys with 10 sacks already. I only got 6 1/2. I can do that.’ You’re trying to be a team player. That’s what I’m all about.
Sacks are good for your next contract, but obviously this team knows what you are doing.
Orakpo: Around the league everyone knows what type of player I am. I have no worries in the world. Every day I have coaches tell me how much a player I am, how great a player and, ‘I wish we had you on our team.’ Steady compliments about what you bring to the table. That’s what keeps me satisfied. These coaches praise me every day, what I’m capable of doing and what I do out there and how much my game progresses year after year. It keeps me trying to get better. That’s what I can hang my hat on.