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Rick Snider: After pec injuries, Brian Orakpo faces a career crossroads

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,Rick Snider

The flecks of gray in his otherwise-dark beard reveal middle age, at least in football years.

Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo turns 27 during training camp. He's only four years into a solid career but also has two torn pec muscles, which can age a pass rusher into early retirement.

Did missing 14 games after the second tear last season allow the Pro Bowler to heal, or does it portend problems? Pass rushers get their arms twisted back by offensive tackles, so it would be easy for Orakpo to suffer another tear. Really, it will be surprising if he doesn't.

But after a blistering Thursday practice, Orakpo countered that his extensive absence last year should cure the muscle, torn twice in three games. He only had an offseason to heal the first time but now gets 10 months before training camp to mend again.

"I feel fresh," Orakpo said. "Missing a whole year, the body was able to recuperate, heal well. It sucks to miss a year, but it's funny because when you miss a year, you get to rejuvenate your body. Let everything else heal up itself.

"It feels a lot stronger because once you get a full year of rehab, you get to work on other stuff surrounding the ligament I pulled. A lot of stuff I wouldn't pay attention to. I was able to do my rehab on a lot of different muscles and ligaments to make sure everything around my pec was fine."

Orakpo is at a career crossroads. His rookie contract is up in 2014, and a healthy season would likely bring lucrative offers. However, another injury would prove costly.

Orakpo declined to comment on a new deal, saying his agent handles negotiations. But a deal is a gamble for both sides. The Redskins might end up feeling they overpaid Orakpo if he continues to get hurt. Orakpo could end up losing money compared to what he'd get on the open market if healthy.

The upside for the Redskins is that Orakpo enjoys playing in Washington. He wants to play with quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, even if they're on the other side of scrimmage. Then again, many a player has traded money for happiness. If a deal isn't done by training camp, Orakpo returning in 2014 is iffy.

For now, Orakpo is no longer a young player with promise but a seasoned vet capable of leading a defense that stumbled too often last season. This should be his prime year.

"Year five, a lot of guys that we all came in very young are growing up and leading," he said. "We're still able to go out there with a great attitude."

Meanwhile, don't look for Orakpo to sprout a younger look by touching up the gray chin.

"It's in my genes," he said. "We gray fast. My wife likes it."

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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