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Samuels Remains a Steadying Influence

They have a new head coach who brought in several new faces on his coaching staff. At least three rookie players are sure to make immediate impacts on the offense. Their Hall of Fame leader won't be calling the shots anymore, and both of last year's top coordinators are with other NFL clubs.

So it's clear: This season will mark the beginning of a new era for the Washington Redskins. But one constant they can count on is the play from No. 60, the imposing starting left tackle.

Since he won the starting job in training camp of 2000, Chris Samuels hasn't relinquished it this entire decade. He's blocked for a host of Redskins quarterbacks and running backs--more than he cares to remember--and he's been with the team through its trials and tribulations.

A cornerstone of the team's future since his selection as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2000 draft, Samuels said being an NFL player has been everything he thought it would be.

"It's been a lot of fun," he said. "The game is at the highest level, of course. Everybody's good, so every time you step out there, you've got to bring your 'A game.' I expected that. I was told that. Everybody has lived up to that."

The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Alabama graduate is coming off his fifth Pro Bowl season, but he never grows tired of making the annual jaunt to Honolulu each February.

"The area is beautiful and seeing the tons of people is beautiful," Samuels said. "Every time I go over there I enjoy myself. The NFL does a first-class job of treating the guys and getting them settled in."

Getting selected to the NFL's all-star game is a way for Samuels to get a little more publicity, which he loves. As an offensive lineman, he will go weeks during the season without much recognition--unless he makes a costly penalty or gives up a big sack. Every player enjoys getting a little kudos when he does something right.

"I love every bit of it," Samuels said of taking his turn in the limelight. "Normally, we don't get any love. It's mainly the other guys. Now, they're starting to love on us a little bit."

Samuels is a workhorse on the practice field who can often be found doing rigorous running drills and stretching exercises by himself. He also enjoys spending a lot of time fishing on his property in Virginia Beach during the offseason and has considered trips to Alaska, Jamaica and the Bahamas over the past two offseasons.

This year, though, he's letting his body relax and recover in between the Redskins' organized team activities and minicamps.

Can you blame him?

It was a draining year for everyone on the Redskins, who endured a range of incidents and emotions most teams in all professional sports will never experience.

From the club's mid-season swoon-and reemergence to finish off the year with four straight wins and a playoff berth-to the tragic loss of Sean Taylor and a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Jason Campbell, Samuels and his teammates deserve a respite before starting anew in 2008.

As one of the team's leaders, Samuels isn't shy about expressing his career goals. He may be on his way to fulfilling most of them.

"Everybody wants to be a Hall of Famer," said Samuels, who signed a seven-year contract during the 2005 offseason. "You know, I want to win a Super Bowl. That's my ultimate goal. My individual goals are to make as many Pro Bowls as possible and eventually be a Hall of Famer."

With 124 career starts over eight NFL seasons, Samuels has lined up across from dozens, if not hundreds, of right defensive ends. He looks forward to playing against them all-but admittedly, a few players stand out as supreme challenges from a physical standpoint.

"I tell you, there are a few guys that are really tough to play against," he said. "Osi Umenyiora; Osi is a great player. Hugh Douglas used to be my biggest rival and matchup, but he's retired now. There are a couple guys in the AFC that are decent too--(Dwight) Freeney and Jason Taylor," he continued.

Ironically, the person who had the biggest hand in grooming Samuels during his rise to the top of his position was the man whom he replaced in Washington.

Andy Heck, currently the offensive line coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, was the Redskins' starting left tackle in 1999 and retired in 2000--the year Samuels was drafted. Samuels thanked him for assuming a lead role in his progression since his rookie year.

"Coming in, I had a great group of guys around me. One guy, Andy Heck, did an outstanding job just looking out for me. They brought me in to play [the] left tackle position. He had been playing it for years. The transition was smooth for me with the class-act assistance from Andy."

So as Jim Zorn and his staff get their feet wet-and hope to keep the team improving instead of reverting to its 2006 form-there will be more questions than answers around Redskins Park until kickoff weekend.

The calm, confident approach by veteran players like Samuels will be a welcome influence in a locker room with several unfamiliar faces.

"There have been tough times here and there, but overall it's been a wonderful career," Samuels said. "Things are smooth sailing now. I've got the routine down pat."

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