ASHBURN -- For most of this decade, Redskins fans got used to seeing Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan line up on opposite ends of the Washington defense. Both skilled pass rushers, the duo formed an imposing frontline for the 'Skins. After injury took most of the 2014 season from Orakpo, the linebacker left the Redskins via free agency and signed with the Tennessee Titans. Now the 'Skins have an opening on the starting defense, and plenty of players are aiming to take it over.
"We're all gunning for it," Redskins second year linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat said of Orakpo's old spot.
"Everybody is gunning for it, everybody is trying to start, because that's what you play for," Jeffcoat said. "You want to start."
Jeffcoat only played three games for Washington in 2014, but he made his time count, registering a sack and an interception. Compare those stats to Orakpo, who logged just a half sack in seven games in 2014, and Jeffcoat looks promising.
"I just want to contribute, that's the biggest thing," Jeffcoat said. "Make sure that I'm there when they need me. Making plays whenever I get on the field."
True to his word, Jeffcoat made a nice play towards the end of Tuesday's OTA session, knocking down a pass. But Redskins GM Scot McCloughan has stressed competition at every position since he took over in Washington, and there are many candidates in the running for Orakpo's previous job.
Jeffcoat is not the front-runner, but the defensive staff likes his skills. Second round pick Preston Smith will also push for Orakpo's spot, as will 2014 second round pick Trent Murphy. Trevardo Williams will be another player that could push for the spot, and the staff likes him too. In fact, on Tuesday, it seemed Williams was playing in place of Kerrigan with the first unit, though Kerrigan's knee injury is not believed to be serious.
Jeffcoat expects a larger role for himself this season, but also recognizes the talent at the outside linebacker position. Of Smith, Jeffcoat called the rookie talented and spoke highly of Murphy as well. It's also worth noting that new defensive coordinator Joe Barry does not seem married to a strict 3-4 base defense, and the smart money predicts the Redskins will use a number of different defensive formations this season. In that vein, expect to see players in many different spots. For instance, rookie Smith spent about half his reps in practice at linebacker and the other half on the defensive line.
With Orakpo gone, a starting job is open on the Redskins defense. That much is certain. And with Kerrigan working back from knee surgery, more reps and practice time will be available at both outside linebacker spots. Opportunity is there, and Jeffcoat knows it.
"That's always the goal, you always want to play to be a starter."