"We need Chris Samuels to age two years in the next three months."
—REDSKINS COACH NORV TURNER May 25, 2000
It wasn't long ago that defensive coordinators lined up their marquee pass rusher almost exclusively on the right side of the defense, over the left offensive tackle. Accordingly, their counterparts on offense wanted their best blockers protecting the left side, the blind side for a right-handed quarterback. "Teams wanted great left tackles and got by with slugs at right tackle," says Green Bay Packers pro personnel director Reggie McKenzie. "No more." Offense coordinators can no longer assume that the heaviest defensive pressure will come from over left tackle. In 1998 the NFL's two sack leaders were left defensive ends. In '99 three of the top four sackers lined up on the left side. Translation: If you want to keep your quarterback healthy, you'd better have a solid pair of tackles.
The Washington Redskins found their right tackle in 1999, taking Michigan's Jon Jansen in the second round. When the Redskins made a trade with the San Francisco 49ers last Feb. 25 that left them with the second and third choices in the first round of the 2000 draft, coach Norv Turner knew before his head hit the pillow that night that he'd be using one of those picks on another tackle. "It's a great time for me to come into the league," says Chris Samuels, the man Washington grabbed with the third selection. "Everybody's concentrating on getting these great pass rushers, and I want to be the guy who stops those great rushers every week."
Here then is a chronicle of the education of a rookie who could have as big a role as any player in determining how far the Redskins go this season.
MARCH 18: TUSCALOOSA, ALA.
Ten minutes into a predraft workout for the Redskins, Samuels is blowing it. He looks nervous, tentative, clumsy. With Turner, owner Dan Snyder and four other members of the organization looking on, he has picked a heck of a time to start choking. Line coach Russ Grimm pulls Samuels aside and asks him what's wrong.
"Nervous," Samuels answers. "I want you guys to draft me."
"Be yourself," Grimm says. "Don't worry about all that other stuff, the drafting and what we think of you. Just be you."
For the next 60 minutes Samuels looks like the guy who, while playing last year for Alabama, didn't allow a sack—or a quarterback pressure—all season. (The Redskins had already studied every Crimson Tide offensive play on tape.) He was quick off the blocks, with excellent footwork, and jabbed well with his forearms.
They hear the right stuff, too. When Snyder mentions to Samuels at lunch—Dreamland Barbeque, where only slabs of ribs and white bread are served, with no utensils, eight paper napkins per guest—that Washington is a party town, Samuels says he's a country boy and that during the week he likes to get his work in and go to bed.