- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

If only there were a simple explanation for Chris Samuels' struggles this season.

If only the left tackle's recent woes could be blamed on his three injuries, the Washington Redskins' frequent passing, opponents targeting his Pro Bowl status or a rookie quarterback calling bad protections.

Heck, even a good, old-fashioned tiff with the coach would make a nice story line.

"It makes better reading if Chris and I hated each other," line coach Kim Helton said with a laugh yesterday. "But it's not like players who are good players don't get beat."

And that, for better or worse, is the story. The aforementioned small factors (minus the tiff) and some good plays by opponents have undermined Samuels, the 2000 draft's third overall pick and a Pro Bowl starter last season. Samuels has surrendered four sacks after allowing just one in all of 2001, but he is taking his slump in stride.

"I'm not performing like I want to I can say that," Samuels said. "But I'm not letting it get me down. I'm still going to go out there and work hard in practice and just keep my head high. Things like this happen."

The sacks have come in twos, two by San Francisco's Andre Carter in a Sept.22 loss to the 49ers and two by New Orleans' Darren Howard in Sunday's defeat. Last weekend's stumble cemented the idea that Samuels is having a rough year, leading to a new round of questions about possible reasons.

Injuries are one factor, though Samuels and Helton haven't used them as an excuse. Samuels has shrugged off three setbacks to his ankle, groin and thigh and an early illness that had him throwing up before games. But there's a difference between not whining about injuries and not having them.

"He's not going to use it as a crutch, but the reality of him having an injury, sure, he had injuries. He didn't make those up," Helton said.

Now Samuels is healed, but other issues remain. The biggest appears to be Washington's frequent passing. The Redskins are averaging 41.6 passing plays per game compared to 33 last year. Not only does that mean more opportunities for sacks, it means the team has been playing catch-up a scenario opponents relish.

"Our offensive line was put in some very difficult situations," defensive end Bruce Smith said. "I know that's their job, but … you're in a no-win situation. You've got to throw the ball. And me as a defensive lineman, I'm loving … that. That's what I live for."

Helton also considers the Redskins' frequent passing the biggest reason for their 25th-ranked sack percentage (7.7 percent of dropbacks), though he refuses to use that as an excuse either.

"If you go down by 20, you're at a total disadvantage as a protector," Helton said. "But again, that's not a crutch for Chris. Block the guy. Here he is, you're a great player, I don't want to see your guy on the quarterback. And that's his theory, too."

A less significant but still tangible, factor is opponents wanting to prove they're on Samuels' now well-known level. Samuels knew right ends across the league would be "hungry and … trying to make a name for themselves [when facing him]," but he needed a conversation with Smith, perhaps history's greatest right end, to reinforce the idea.

"I've been telling him since Day1, it's [darn] hard to get to the top," Smith said. "And it's twice as hard to stay there. Once you get to the top and make a name for yourself, that next year everybody's going to be gunning for you."

And you're in real trouble if your rookie quarterback doesn't call the right protection. Patrick Ramsey acknowledged there was at least one play Sunday the two-point conversion on which Howard flattened him when Samuels didn't block his guy because of an error in the call.

"And they may be bringing blitzes in certain occasions that's just new stuff for us," added Ramsey, who was sacked seven times Sunday. "Chris is a great player. Nobody should have any reason to get down on Chris."

Two theories that some players offered this week but which Samuels and Helton shot down are these: Samuels has been struggling with a new technique and has been overcompensating for the inconsistent play at left guard.

Of the issue of a new technique, the first-year line coach said, "Not true. Absolutely not. … The only thing I can assure you is that there's no change in the technique because you don't take a great player and start changing him."

And of the guards, Samuels said, "I'm not really compensating for guys next to me. Those guys have a job to do, and we're all expected to do our job."

Ultimately, the refusal to shift blame is part of what makes Samuels a great player. Outsiders might be searching for simple explanations for his recent struggles, but he's giving credit to his opponents and keeping things in perspective.

"Nobody can just play at a high level every game throughout their career," Samuels said. "There's going to be tough times, and how you handle those tough times shows a lot about your character."

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