You hear the same refrain from NFL coaches every time a starter is injured or is forced to miss a game: A reserve player has to raise his level of play and fill the void.
Safety Ryan Clark heeded that call in Week 5 when Matt Bowen was sidelined with a knee injury. Bowen is out for the remainder of the season and Clark is expected to see action in his place. This Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, with Sean Taylor declared inactive, Andre Lott, Todd Franz and Pat Dennis will have to step up.
With his solid performances filling in for Bowen against the Baltimore Ravens (a career-high 10 tackles) and the Chicago Bears (nine tackles), Clark has demonstrated that he is up for the challenge.
"You never want Matt to be out," Clark said. "He's my teammate, and he's one of the guys who really embraced me since I've been here. In a way, I guess, it's a blessing that I get the opportunity to play. I want to go out there and do well."
In the Baltimore game, the 5-11, 200-pounder spent much of the game trying to help stop the Ravens' running attack. On several occasions, Clark stood up running back Jamal Lewis, who outweighs him by 45 pounds.
The pounding took a toll on Clark as he missed several plays late in the game with an ankle injury, but he took it in stride afterwards. Playing against a downhill runner like Lewis is a real challenge for any defensive back, Clark allowed.
Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams noted Clark's resolve even before the game against Baltimore.
"He's a tough guy and he plays well on special teams," Williams said. "Coaches have to be impressed with guys like Ryan who go full throttle."
Clark, an LSU product, signed with the Redskins on July 31. He has made his presence felt this season despite joining the team as late as the first day of training camp.
He had four tackles (three solo) on defense in Week 2 versus the New York Giants, a special teams tackle and a defensive tackle against Dallas in Week 3 and one assist in Week 4 at Cleveland.
A former Giant, Clark has become more comfortable playing at the professional level.
"I'm more relaxed out there than I was my rookie year when I played nickel back and dime," he said. "In the NFL, you're out there with the best in the world. There's nobody better than the guys you're up against."
Added Williams: "Ryan Clark is a very smart football player. He understands how to play the game. He can make the calls in the secondary, too."