Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden announced on Monday that Brian Orakpo, a three-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker, will miss the remainder of the 2014 season after tearing his right pectoral muscle during the fourth quarter of the Redskins' 19-17 victory Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
It's the third time in Orakpo's six-plus-year career that he has suffered a significant injury to one of his pectoral muscles.
"It's very unfortunate for Brian, but he will bounce back," Gruden said. "He is a tough guy, he is strong. [It's] just unfortunate. I feel bad for him, and it's a major blow to us."
Orakpo on Monday tweeted about the injury to Redskins fans, vowing to return even better if given the opportunity:
Earlier this year, the Redskins used their franchise tag on Orakpo, who recorded a team-best 10 sacks last season. Playing through several previous injuries during a contract year – including a sprained ankle and a dislocated finger – Orakpo recorded just a half sack through seven games in 2014, although he added 24 total tackles and several quarterback pressures.
"You lose a proven starter like that and then you have to play people behind him, it hurts your depth, obviously hurts your leadership, same with Brian," Gruden said. "His production may not be where people think it should be, but he's still been playing very good against the run and been disruptive in the passing game and that will be a big loss."
The injury to Orakpo means rookie Trent Murphy – the Redskins' top draft pick this season out of Stanford – will step up into the starter's role at outside linebacker alongside veteran Ryan Kerrigan.
First-year player Jackson Jeffcoat, meanwhile, now moves into that No. 3 spot previously filled by Murphy, while the Redskins have several other options – including practice squad player Gabe Miller – to consider for Jeffcoat's previous spot.
Gruden said Murphy is "going to have to grow up very fast," beginning next Monday against the Dallas Cowboys, who feature the No. 1-rated rushing attack in the league.
"He's got to step up his game, he has got to play better, he has got to play more physical at the point of attack," Gruden said. "We are playing against the No. 1 rushing offense in the National Football League, so he is going to have to be very good at the point of attack and then obviously transition into pass rush against some very good tackles. So, he is going to have his work cut out for him."
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 Kerrigan, meanwhile, will have to continue to be one of the Redskins' defense's "key players" for the rest of the season. Kerrigan leads the Redskins with 6.5 sacks, the third-most in the league.
"His consistency is excellent. He comes to work every day, works hard, he's good against the run, he has had some great pass rush moves obviously getting up the field, got some bull rush," Gruden said. "He can do it all. He has dropped in coverage and covered tight ends out of the backfield. So we really feel strongly about where Ryan is as a player. He is productive and he is going to have to be more productive."
As for Orakpo's future with the franchise, Gruden said those discussions will take place after the season.
"We will have to evaluate that after the season, where we are, how Trent [Murphy] does," Gruden said. "Obviously we like Brian and he's done some great things for this franchise and that is something that will have to be addressed when the season is over and moving forward. Bruce Allen and myself and the personnel department and the coaches all talk about that."
Gruden said he was yet to speak to Orakpo prior to Monday's press conference, but said the Texas product has "been a class act" since his hiring in January.
"He's handled his situation like a pro and he's practiced very hard," Gruden said. "He's competed, he's been a good leader on and off the field, and it's just very unfortunate. I know he's frustrated with his sack numbers statistically. He's been a big piece of our defense. We're in the Top 10 on defense and he's a major part of the reason why."