Rob Jackson was ready for this. He watched in practice and knew that since last season, Brian Orakpo's left pectoral muscle wasn't 100 percent.
Meanwhile, Jarvis Jenkins learned two-thirds of his game from fellow Washington Redskins defensive end Adam Carriker and last year had to watch from afar with his own knee injury.
Now, Jackson and Jenkins are part of the Redskins' land of opportunity on defense. With Orakpo and Carriker lost for the season, they'll combine with the likes of Chris Wilson, Kedric Golston, Chris Baker, Markus White and Ryan Kerrigan to pick up the slack.
"It's a big opportunity, for not only myself but any backup," Jackson said." You're a backup in a position waiting for that day or that game that you actually start a game."
Coach Mike Shanahan likes to preach to his players that injuries shouldn't carry with them any drop-off to the next guy in line. As Wilson and Jackson battled this week for Orakpo's starting spot, both assured there would be no noticeable decline.
Same goes for Jenkins, who only has two NFL games to his name but has the potential to be better than Carriker.
It's not the situation the Redskins wanted going into Week 3, but opportunity knocked.
"It is a challenge. It's a challenge for everybody. But we've got great confidence in Jarvis. It's good to see Baker's healthy now, so he'll get an opportunity to play and see what he can do," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "Rak's going to be hard to replace because he's a great player, three-time Pro Bowler. But I feel good between Rob Jackson, Chris Wilson and Markus White, the three of them. We'll work all three of them. They can make it up. Maybe they won't play at 'Rak's level but they can be efficient in certain areas."
With statistically one of the worst defenses in the NFL through two weeks, thanks in part to facing the high-octane New Orleans Saints, the Redskins are counting on contributions from all over.
The secondary will need to be better against Andy Dalton, A.J. Greene and the Cincinnati Bengals in Sunday's home opener at FedEx Field, though a better pass rush could help. Kerrigan will be counted on to provide that, but the onus isn't just on him.
"I hope everybody steps up their game and does make up," Haslett said. "That's part of it when you lose somebody, you like to have everybody step up."
Along the defensive line, Jenkins is more than ready to step up.
"A real big opportunity, you know, man. Coming off a knee injury, I get a chance to prove all my hard work I did in the offseason, and just make plays, be the guy that everybody [expects]," he said. "I've just got to go out there and just hold my point of attack, get rush on the quarterback and just do my job."
Wilson, Jackson and White are expected to split duties at outside linebacker, but that doesn't mean everyone doesn't want to start. The competition has been on all week.
"Being in the NFL as long as I've been, it's always an open competition. When I sat out a year, I was that guy outside of the league chomping at the bit, agent calling me about guys not being productive," Wilson said. "I know Rob Jackson, a very productive player, as well as myself, and we've got Markus White back and everything. It's always going to be competitive. That doesn't change."
Sunday the Redskins could take a wait-and-see-approach on splitting reps. In Jackson's perfect world, he gets the nod moving forward.
"I would like it to be mine down in, down out. That's what you want to play for," he said. "You want to play your best, and I would hope my best is capable of being a No. 1 guy down in, down out."
Wilson agreed: It does matter who comes out of the tunnel as a starter, but earning that job is just the beginning. Given the Redskins' need to tighten up on defense, the pressure is on the next men up.
"We've got a great defense; we've got a great personnel," Wilson said. "We don't need anybody to be a hero, that's a good thing about it. As bad as we've played, I wouldn't say we're struggling, but it's definitely fixable and it's our own. It's something that we can do."
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