After a brutal stretch that included playing two games within a five-day span – the second of which ending in a disappointing 45-14 home loss to the New York Giants – the Washington Redskins were able to take a few days off to rest their bodies and their minds before getting back to the midseason grind to focus on Monday night's opponent, the Seattle Seahawks.
But Brian Orakpo wasn't satisfied with getting away for a little while – at least not initially.
Instead, the day after the loss to the Giants, Orakpo arranged for his fellow linebackers to meet at the team facility and watch the game film to immediately begin correcting their mistakes.
That extra work is just one of many ways Orakpo has stepped up his leadership role this season, his sixth with the Redskins.
That attitude is definitely being noticed.
"We all definitely took it quite personally after the way we played in the Giants game," fellow outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "'Rak got some of us together to watch some extra film and see what we can do better, and make sure it didn't happen again."
Orakpo's leadership efforts this season aren't just felt on the field and in the meeting room. He's also arranged a weekly linebacker dinner away from the facility, which, Kerrigan said, has brought the unit even closer together.
"Anytime you have that level of camaraderie with your teammates, you hope it translates onto the football field," Kerrigan said. "(Orakpo) was definitely the catalyst of it. The teams that are closer tend to be better in the long run."
Orakpo, 28, is in the final year of his contract with the Redskins (1-3). The three-time Pro Bowler could've just laid low this season, playing out the year and then seeing what offers came his way from teams across the league.
Instead, upon signing his one-year franchise tender with Washington in March, Orakpo decided he didn't want to be a distraction. Sure, he would've liked to have signed a contract extension that ensured him several more years in a Redskins uniform, but that possibility wasn't quite yet in the cards.
Instead, Orakpo has embraced quite the opposite approach, helping fill in the leadership void left by the absence of legendary Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher, who retired after the 2013 season.
"I see the future of this organization is very bright and I want to be a part of it," Orakpo said. "I just hate distractions, you know? I hate distractions and the whole mess that goes with contracts and just the business aspect of the whole football thing."
Orakpo – who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 257 pounds – returned to the Redskins this season after leading the team in sacks for the fourth time in his five-year career. Last season, the outside linebacker returned from an injury-plagued 2012 season to collect 70 tackles (47 solo) with 10 sacks.
He also had his first interception of his career Week 7 against the Chicago Bears at FedExField, picking off a bobbled pass and returning it 29 yards for his first-career touchdown.
Orakpo was rewarded with his third selection to the Pro Bowl roster, where his Team Jerry Rice squad defeated Team Deion Sanders, 22-21.
This season, Orakpo – a Texans product taken by the Redskins with the 13th-overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft – has continued to apply pressure to the opposing quarterback. He enters Monday night's game against the Seahawks with just a half-sack on the year, but is tied for fourth on the team in quarterback pressures with four, despite battling through an ankle injury and a torn ligament in his finger.
With each sack he collects, Orakpo continues to cement his name in the Redskins' record books. His 40 career sacks currently rank fifth in team history, and Orakpo stands just 1.5 sacks away from fourth-place Ken Harvey (41.5) and 3.5 sacks away from third-place Monte Coleman (43.5).
First-year Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said Orakpo's "had a great career already," but knows the outside linebacker isn't satisfied with leaning on his past accomplishments.
"We have high hopes for him, and the reason why we franchised him and gave him what we gave him is because we think he's a hell of a player," Gruden said. "We expect great things from him – not only on the field, but as far as being a leader, also, of that group. He's, so far, done that. He's been excellent."
Photos from LB Brian Orakpo's past seasons playing with the Washington Redskins. On March 3, 2014 the club applied the franchise tag to Orakpo.
Gruden said since his arrival in January, Orakpo has been "very positive, very approachable, been to all the meetings and very excited to come to work and practice and get better."
"Coach [Brian] Baker is helping him out a lot, and I think this is going to be a good year for him, as long as he continues to work, which he is," Gruden said. "We're happy with what he's doing so far and really excited about the possibilities that we have with him and Kerrigan on the outside, being a little bit more physical, being a little bit more aggressive."
Yes, the individual accolades are nice, but Orakpo sees the bigger picture.
He knows Monday night's game – another nationally-televised contest, this time on ESPN's Monday Night Football – is a prime opportunity for redemption for the Redskins' defense.
"There's going to be criticism about the way we play, obviously, when we get blown out at home on Thursday night," Orakpo said. "It's a perfect time for redemption against the defending Super Bowl champions, and another opportunity against the world, against the nation, to go out there."
Orakpo said he's looking forward to the "second chance."
"It's a second chance for us to go out there and fix the problems we had and go out there and show everybody that we're a good defense, a great defense – a great team."