The season-ending injury to Junior Galette robs Washington’s defense of a game-changing pass-rusher. But, as they always say, “It’s next man up.”

As cornerback David Amerson put it, “If you’re a guy that isn’t with the [starters], and you’re a backup, or whatever, you have to be ready. With this game, a lot of injuries do occur and your opportunity could be coming to step up and be that guy.”

So, which players will contend for the opportunity that Galette’s injury has created? Here’s the rundown:

Preston Smith — The second-round pick was largely invisible through the offseason and training camp practices, but he seemingly kicked it into another gear once the preseason began. He has flashed both as a pass rusher and a run stopper. Smith has started each of the first two preseason games with both Ryan Kerrigan and Galette out. Those game reps have been valuable. On Sunday, he lined up with the first team opposite Kerrigan. It would appear that he could have a leg up on the competition for the starting job.

Trent Murphy — Although Smith has looked good, Murphy can’t be ruled out for the starting job. He hasn’t been as disruptive, but he’s probably more consistent at this point. He’s reliable against the run. But still isn’t as impactful as a pass rusher as coaches would like. It’s possible that Murphy could start, playing predominantly on running downs, with Smith taking over on passing downs. The two also could share the field at times, with Murphy lining up as a down lineman and Smith rushing out of a two-point stance.

Jackson Jeffcoat — He’s best suited as a special teams player, but he did have a strong career at Texas, and late last year, he recorded a sack with both Orakpo and Murphy done for the season. Jeffcoat has a sack in each of the two preseason games this summer. Although it’s unlikely he could crack the starting lineup, his chances of being used as a situational pass rusher have certainly increased now. His special-teams contributions help his case for a roster spot.

Houston Bates — The team’s talent evaluators liked Bates as an undrafted rookie, but at the start of training camp, he didn’t seem like a strong candidate to make the roster. However, after a preseason in which he’s recorded three sacks (two at Cleveland) and five tackles, while also lining up on multiple special-teams units, Bates could battle Jeffcoat for the final spot in the 53-man roster’s linebacking unit.

The next two games will carry quite a lot of weight for these linebackers. The performances of those who play well will lock up roster spots and key jobs. However, those who struggle will wind up on the streets, or possibly the practice squad. You can be sure that Scot McCloughan & Co. are also closely studying other teams’ rosters for pass-rushers to scoop up to after cut-down day, if none of the above players do an adequate job of solidifying their spots.

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