With two-time Pro Bowl right outside linebacker Brian Orakpo done for the year with a torn pectoral muscle and reliable left defensive end Adam Carriker also gone with a torn quadricep, the Redskins will have two neophyte starters in the lineup Sunday against Cincinnati.
"We'll miss those guys but you don't make excuses," said captain London Fletcher. "You go out and play football. We expect those guys to play well. At some point in time, everybody has to make their first start. Just play your game and relax."
While Jarvis Jenkins will get the first shot at replacing Carriker, Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson are battling to take Orakpo's place.
"Obviously I'm gonna have to step up," said Jenkins, a second-round draft choice in 2011 who spent his rookie year on injured reserve with a torn ACL. "(Coach Mike) Shanahan told me he had picked me for a reason. I gotta go out there and prove why I got picked. Those preseason games (last month) were kinda like me being a rookie again. I got a taste of it now and I'm ready to just go out there and play ball. Last year gave me a chance to get tougher mentally. I was in all the meetings and I trained hard. Now I feel good and it's my time to step up. I got acclimated and let them know what kind of guy I was. I gotta provide the run-stopping that Adam did."
Carriker also had a career-high 5.5 sacks last year, but Shanahan is upbeat about the 24-year-old Jenkins taking over the position where former starter Kedric Golston, 29, also figures to be a factor.
"Jarvis has the ability," Shanahan said. "Now he has the opportunity to show us what we can do being a starter. He's very talented, obviously unproven, but I'll be surprised if he doesn't play well. Kedric has a chance to play a little bit more. I'm sure he's biting at the bit to keep on showing us that maybe he should be the starter."
That's also the case for Jackson, who has spent more time on the practice squad than on the roster since he was picked in the seventh round in 2008, and Wilson, who made the Redskins out of the CFL in 2007 and was out of football last season after leaving Washington for Philadelphia.
"I've been preparing myself since preseason to go in and start because Rak's never been right ever since (he first hit the pectoral) last year," Jackson said. "I've been working hard and preparing for this opportunity ever since I've been here. I gotta work on some coverage skills, but as far as stopping the run and rushing the passer, I feel I got that pretty much down pat. We plan on going out there and showing them there's really going to be no dropoff."
The 30-year-old Wilson, one of just six Redskins who was part of the franchise's last playoff team in 2007, has been a pass-rush specialist like the 26-year-old Jackson.
"I expect the spotlight," Wilson said. "Everybody's gonna wonder how we're gonna do now that Rak is out of there. It's not a bad thing. It's an opportunity for myself and Rob. Coach Shanahan preaches about being deep for a situation like this. I'm good (at pass coverage) but I can always do better. It's not about the skill. I'm a big guy. I can run. It's about the preparation. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't trying to win the job. Rob's trying to do the same thing, but we also both special teams so I expect both of us to contribute. It's gonna take everything we've got."
Orakpo's absence puts more pressure on left outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who was drafted 13th overall in 2011 to be a bookend pass rusher after the former didn't have much help going after quarterbacks in 2010, Shanahan's first year. They combined for 18.5 sacks in their 18 games together, 10 by Orakpo and 8.5 by Kerrigan.
"I gotta definitely raise my game," Kerrigan said. "I haven't played up to my standards the first couple weeks. Now with Rak down, I've gotta make more plays."