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Samuels: Among the League's Elite

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It's pretty difficult to make the Pro Bowl if you're an offensive tackle in the NFC. There's always Orlando Pace of St. Louis and Walter Jones of Seattle with whom to contend. Pace has been selected to go to Honolulu seven times, Jones six.

A six-year NFL veteran, Chris Samuels will be making his third Pro Bowl appearance this weekend as an NFC East reserve. He and Redskins teammate Santana Moss will try to help lead the NFC to a win.

The next step for Samuels? To be mentioned regularly in the same breath as players the caliber of Pace and Jones.

The 6-5, 310-pound Samuels took great strides in that direction in 2005.

As Samuels, the former Alabama star, said when asked about making it back to the Pro Bowl: "I'm excited about it big-time. I've been working hard to get back over there. It's truly a blessing."

In the game itself, Pace, Jones and Samuels will face stiff opposition from the AFC's group of defensive ends. The Raiders' Derrick Burgess, who is coming off a 16-sack season, will start at one defensive end along with the Colts' speedy Dwight Freeney, whose spin moves can give blockers fits. Freeney had 11 sacks in 2005.

Jason Taylor of the Dolphins was selected for the game but will be out due to injury. Taking Taylor's spot is Kyle Vanden Bosch of the Titans, who had 12.5 sacks in the recently-completed season.

Samuels has said all along that his return to Pro Bowl status was a matter of improving his techniques and has come about as a result of determined work under the direction of Redskins' assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel.

Said Samuels: "It goes back to the fundamentals of the game. 'Buges' emphasizes it every day, specifically footwork, balance, tight hands and keeping your head up. He's harped on those things from day one."

Bugel and Redskins veteran offensive lineman Ray Brown, who retired in January after 20 seasons in the NFL, say Samuels has what it takes move up the charts and challenge Pace and Jones in the NFC.

Said Brown: "Chris was great this past season. He had a big challenge every week. He answered the call, even though in some games he was pretty banged up. A lot of times, guys don't get credit for playing though injuries. It's great to see a guy like Chris get honored. The Pro Bowl validates his season."

Among the AFC's best, Willie Roaf of the Chiefs has been selected to 11 Pro Bowls, Jonathan Ogden of the Ravens nine and Willie Anderson of the Bengals five.

Samuels is the first to admit that his confidence may have slipped a bit in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, years in which he missed out on Pro Bowl trips. Quickly, though, he'll add: "I'm back on track now. My confidence is high again. I feel like I'm playing at a high level again."

At this point in his career, the Redskins' left tackle is aiming to be recognized annually among the best at his position.

Three Pro Bowl trips indicates a trend; any more than that, and you're really among the standard-bearers.

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