- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

That hissing noise emanating from Ashburn, Va., yesterday was a sigh of relief, not the air going out of the Redskins’ balloon. But it might have been the latter if an MRI had revealed serious damage to Chris Samuels’ right knee, which gave out on him in Sunday’s 45-car wreck at Giants Stadium.

Losing their left offensive tackle for an extended period would have had about the same effect on the Redskins as losing their right offensive tackle, Jon Jansen, last year. When Jansen went down, the team turned to 42-year-old Ray Brown, the oldest offensive lineman in modern NFL history. And when Samuels exited Sunday, the team turned to … 43-year-old Ray Brown — all together now — the oldest offensive lineman in modern NFL history.

The question, of course, is: Why? Why, after the painful experience of last season, didn’t the Redskins do more to strengthen the tackle position? I mean, Brown is one of the great guys in the league and a credit to this or any other organization, but he has already announced he’s retiring after this year. He also has logged precious little playing time at left tackle.

“Is it possible,” I asked him, “that Sunday was the first time you had played left tackle since the ‘90s?”

“Probably,” he said with a smile. “I played it either in San Francisco or here [in his first tour of duty from ‘89 to ‘95].”

I checked it out later. His last appearance at left tackle, near as I can determine, was in ‘94, when he filled in for Jim Lachey for a couple of weeks. And in case you were wondering, playing left tackle is not like riding a bicycle. To be able to switch to that position seamlessly, after spending most of your career at guard, you’d “have to be an astronaut, man,” Brown said, “one of those guys who go to the moon. They’re unique. Me, I’m not an astronaut.”

No, he’s just a lineman who, true to his blue-collar roots, is willing to do whatever the boss asks.

You have to wonder, though, why the Redskins left themselves no choice but to throw Brown to the Giants. The only other tackle on the roster, second-year man Jim Molinaro, was on the inactive list Sunday, as he has been all season. Over the winter, the club addressed its need at center by signing Casey Rabach, but it didn’t add any depth behind Samuels and Jansen — leaving itself vulnerable to another injury.

Not the best of planning, you have to admit. Part of the problem was that the Redskins traded away their second- and third-round draft picks. If they hadn’t done that, they could have helped themselves to one of the six offensive tackles selected in those rounds, one who might have been able to step in for Samuels. They also refrained from taking a tackle in the later rounds, opting for two running backs (Manuel White, Nehemiah Broughton) and two linebackers (Robert McCune and Jared Newberry).

The Patriots, I’ll just point out, recently had their left tackle, Matt Light, go down with a broken leg. And who did the Super Bowl champs replace him with? Not with a 20-year veteran more suited to guard but with 26-year-old Nick Kaczur, their third-round draft choice.

The Redskins also could have sought somebody like Todd Steussie as an insurance policy at tackle. (The two-time Pro Bowler, who was available in the offseason, is currently a backup with the Bucs.) It’s a matter of choices, of priorities. No team can protect itself against every eventuality, but you’d think the Redskins, after the Jansen calamity, would have said, “Never again.” Instead, they seem to have decided that lightning can’t strike twice in the same place.

And maybe it won’t. Maybe Samuels will be able to finish out the season — he said yesterday he is “pretty sure” he’ll be available Sunday night against the Eagles — and in February he’ll have his knee ‘scoped to smooth out the rough edges. But there are a couple of other possible scenarios, ones the Redskins probably don’t want to contemplate:

1. Samuels’ injury continues to nag him, and his play suffers.

2. Samuels’ injury gradually worsens, and Brown and/or Molinaro are forced to become the guardians of Mark Brunell’s left flank.

Rest assured Brown will give what he has to give. “Sure, you’d love to stay at one position,” he said, “but as a backup you have to just throw that out the window. Your home is wherever you roam. … I feel like I could play eight games [if the club needed him to]. I’m not going to the glue factory yet.”

The Redskins hope they never have to take him up on that offer. He’s a model employee, Ray Brown is, but like the man said, he’s no Neil Armstrong.

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