Brian Orakpo is poised to emerge as a dominant defensive player in just his second NFL season.
Coaches are devising a defense that puts Orakpo in position to make more big plays.
In the Redskins' new 3-4 defense, Orakpo is a full-time linebacker, and it's hoped that leads to more sacks, forced fumbles, tackles in the backfield and maybe even an interception or two.
"I have a lot more confidence," Orakpo said. "I have a lot more of a leadership role just pushing guys, guys working hard and trying to get better than what we were last year.
"Last year I was coming into a situation where I didn't know where I was going to be. I found out I was coming to the Redskins and was just trying to get my feet wet.
"Now, I'm one of the premiere guys so I've got to bring it. I've got to bring it again, improve on my game and try to help this team get better."
Last season, Orakpo was voted to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He was the first Redskins rookie to make the Pro Bowl since 1978.
Orakpo, the Redskins' 2009 first-round draft pick (13th overall), played both linebacker and defensive end. His responsibilities included rushing the passer and dropping back in coverage, depending on the down, distance and play call.
Orakpo finished his rookie campaign with 60 tackles and he tied Andre Carter for the team lead in sacks with 11.
He had just one forced fumble, a stat that caught the attention of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
As a pass-rusher with good speed and athleticism, Orakpo should have had more than one forced fumble, Haslett said.
"He had 11 sacks, but he didn't [force many] turnovers, he didn't get many balls out," Haslett said. "He's left-handed and we have to teach him to chop."
Orakpo said he has spent time this offseason studying pass rushers Dwight Freeney of the Indianapolis Colts and James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I look at a lot of guys who are really ball hawks, really know how to get the ball out of the quarterback's hand and create big plays," Orakpo said. "I'm a guy who likes to make tackles, so I've got to work on being a little more relentless as far as being a ball hawk and getting the ball out. I plan on really improving next season."
Orakpo is a big fan of Haslett, who was a linebacker in the NFL for eight seasons before entering the coaching ranks.
"You can relate to him," Orakpo said. "He played this game. He played it at linebacker and he was a huge force for his teams. He's a guy that comes in with so much energy and so much passion for the game--we can relate to that.
"That's one thing I respect, and one thing a lot of players respect, is when a coach is not sitting on top of a pedestal where you can't really reflect or really talk to him. Coach Haslett is a guy who is just like us. He's a player's coach."