The Washington Times - October 23, 2009, 08:31PM

That six-time Pro Bowl offensive left tackle Chris Samuels, who was diagnosed with a narrowing of the spinal column as a rookie in 2000 that had caused him to wear a large neck collar since, will play it safe didn’t surprise his teammates.

“Chris told me today that he had to do what’s best for him and his family,” center Casey Rabach said. “He’s got a long future ahead of him and he doesn’t want to be in a wheelchair.”

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Agreed Stephon Heyer, who has inherited Samuels’ job, at least for the short term, “I know he wants to keep playing, but he’s had a good run as one of the best tackles in football.”

Indeed, the 6-foot-5, 314-pound Samuels was voted to his first Pro Bowl in just his second season. He went back to Hawaii in 2002 and 2005-08 although he couldn’t play in last year’s game after finishing the season on injured reserve with a torn triceps.

“Chris always gave it all he had,” said defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, a teammate at Alabama in 1998-99 and in Washington from 2004-09. “He was the third pick in the draft, but he worked every day like a guy who wasn’t drafted. He was a true pro.”

Indeed, the only Redskins to be chosen for more Pro Bowls than Samuels are linebacker Chris Hanburger (nine) and Hall of Famers Darrell Green, Ken Houston and Charley Taylor (seven apiece).

Samuels was also one of the most decorated tackles of his generation along with Baltimore’s Jonathan Ogden, who’s retired, Seattle’s Walter Jones, who has been out all year with a knee injury, and Orlando Pace, who caught on with Chicago this year after being cut by St. Louis.

“I’ve got huge shoes to fill,” said Heyer, a 2007 rookie free agent who shifted from the right side to the left after Samuels was hurt but could move back if Tuesday signee Levi Jones shows he’s still capable of starting as he did the past seven years for the Cincinnati Bengals. “Chris was a mentor to me and his advice was always on point.”

Suddenly, Rabach, the line’s youngest starter in 2008 is now the elder statesman after Pete Kendall wasn’t re-signed, Jon Jansen was cut, Randy Thomas suffered a season-ending torn triceps in September that may be as career-ending as the injury to Samuels.

“It’s been a tough season, no doubt,” Rabach said. “I feel like the last man standing. We need our young guys to rise up.”

— David Elfin