By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 5, 2008
After completing his afternoon workout yesterday at Redskins Park, Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels briefly relaxed and reflected before practice. Samuels has remained in the lineup despite an injured right knee, hoping to cope with the pain long enough to help Washington earn an NFC playoff berth.
Coach Jim Zorn, however, has expressed doubt about whether Samuels -- the Redskins' top offensive lineman -- would complete the season, and the nine-year veteran has preferred to focus on things one day at a time. With a once-promising season threatening to slip away, Samuels is among many team leaders who have taken on more responsibility as Washington begins its final four-game stretch.
Samuels plans to start Sunday as the Redskins (7-5) face the Ravens (8-4) at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Anything beyond that depends on how his knee fares.
"How I'm going to play, how I'll be out there, I really don't know until I see how it feels" each game, Samuels said. "I mean, yeah, it's been tough. My knee is bothering me and that's just the way it is. But I'm still able to get out there and practice, when I can, and play in the games.
"So in that way, I'm fortunate. Some guys get injured and they're out for the season. I'm still able to play and try to help these guys. It's something I've just got to work through. There have been a lot of guys in the past who've played through injuries. It's part of our job, really."
Samuels, 31, has done his job well for the Redskins since they selected him from the University of Alabama with the third overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft. A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Samuels has been among the league's most durable offensive linemen, but his streak of 73 consecutive starts in regular season games ended Oct. 26.
He initially felt pain in his right knee during pregame warmups and sat out Washington's 25-17 victory over the Detroit Lions. An MRI exam revealed no structural damage, a team spokesman said, but showed inflammation of the cartilage behind his knee.
"From everything they showed me on the MRI, the MRI showed nothing structurally wrong with the knee," Samuels said. "It's just about dealing with the pain."
In an effort to help Samuels remain on the active roster, Zorn, who would prefer to have every player participate in every practice, has not pushed Samuels during weekly preparations. Samuels was limited in yesterday's practice, taking part only in the walk-through.
"He's fought through a lot of pain every week," Zorn said. "He understands that it's not a structural injury, so his is pain tolerance. He gets a [pain] shot and we get after it. We try to heat it up. We try to keep him warm as the game rolls along. Some series are better than others, I will tell you that. He's good enough to play, even though he's banged up."
Healthy enough to complete the schedule and possibly play in the postseason?
"I'm not going to predict that," Zorn said. "I would love that to happen, but I'm not going to predict that."
Washington's offensive line has struggled in pass protection, especially in three November losses, as Pittsburgh, Dallas and the New York Giants sacked quarterback Jason Campbell 14 times. Samuels has continued to anchor the line, which also has played a major role in helping running back Clinton Portis rush for 1,228 yards -- the league's second-highest total.
As with any unit on the team, the offensive line shares in the responsibility "for whatever is going right for us and whatever isn't" working, Samuels said. "For me, it has been kind of up and down. The Giants game, I thought I had a pretty good game.
"Then there have been other games where maybe I would get beat one time and give up a sack. Mainly it's been great players like [Dallas weak-side linebacker] DeMarcus Ware. He actually got two sacks on me, one in each game, but that's going to happen. He's just tough to stop. But how much can I put on the knee? I really can't say. If I'm out there, I'm going to take full responsibility. I'm not the type of player who . . . I could easily sit here and make excuses, 'I'm not playing up to par because of my knee,' but nah, I'm out there on the field. Whatever I put down on that tape, it is what it is."
Samuels's knee injury, obviously, has hampered his performance, many coaches and players said. "But we'd rather have him out there than standing on the sideline," offensive coordinator Sherman Smith said. "He's a pro. He has a great deal of pride in wanting to help the team be successful and he has a great deal of pride in his personal performance. For him to go out there, knowing he's not at 100 percent, helps us."
Said right guard Randy Thomas: "We expect nothing less from Chris, and when it's time to block the best in the league, he holds his own. That's why he's a Pro Bowler."