ASHBURN, Va. -- Three years ago, the Washington Redskins' season began its downward spiral when one of the pillars of their offensive line ruptured an Achilles' tendon during the preseason.
Late Monday afternoon, for a heart-stopping minute or two, the Redskins thought they were reliving that nightmare. This time it was left tackle Chris Samuels instead of right tackle Jon Jansen -- and it was a practice instead of a game -- but the scene was familiar: Players huddled in silence around the fallen teammate, thinking the worst.
"You don't know what to think when you see a player laying on the field like that," assistant coach Joe Bugel said Tuesday. "You could hear a pin drop. Any player who goes down -- but especially when you lose a Pro Bowl player like that. Those are the kind of guys you can't afford to lose."
An MRI revealed a grade 2 sprain of the MCL. Translated in English, that means a sigh of relief. Samuels is expected to miss up to four weeks -- probably the entire preseason -- but is expected to return in time for the regular season opener Sept. 9, although that timetable is far from set in stone given the unpredictable nature of injury rehabilitation.
"We really got good news," coach Joe Gibbs said. "Hopefully Chris will be back before four weeks are up."
The injury is a reminder of the precarious nature of the game. Even if Samuels returns on time, will the knee nag the him all season, altering his technique and quickness as he attempts to keep pass rushers from hitting quarterback Jason Campbell in the back? Players playing hurt is a reason often cited for last year's 5-11 season, when several key defensive players were hindered by various ailments.
Jansen's injury in 2004 was far worse, causing him to miss the entire season. It wasn't the only reason the Redskins finished 6-10, but it cost the team a solid locker room leader and forced an aging Ray Brown to move from guard to center and into a starting role.
This year's team appears better equipped to deal with such setbacks, thanks to some offseason acquisitions that added experienced depth to the line. The Redskins have eight linemen in camp with at least four years of NFL experience, although they called on an undrafted rookie -- Stephon Heyer from Maryland -- to take most of the first-team snaps at left tackle during Tuesday's practice.
"I told the guys in the meeting today, 'Don't be surprised if we come in and start shuffling people around.' If I want you at left tackle, you're going to left tackle,"' Bugel said.
The roster also includes Jason Fabini, who started 114 games with the New York Jets before spending last season as a backup with Dallas. Todd Wade is an experienced tackle, although he's been learning how to play left guard to replace departed free agent Derrick Dockery.
Meanwhile, right guard Randy Thomas is still recovering from knee surgery. He took part in his first practice of camp Tuesday, although he skipped several drills. Given the importance linemen always place on chemistry and teamwork, it's hard to imagine the eventual starting five being in sync come opening day unless they get more time to practice together.
"It's a big loss," Thomas said of Samuels' injury. "Especially during training camp, you want to keep everybody together. But the pro he is, he'll be back, he'll be ready for Miami. When he hollered real loud, like a girl, I thought it was real bad. He's so flexible, though, big and bendy and juicy."
Notes: Safety LaRon Landry, the No. 6 pick in the draft, was on the field for the first time after missing the first four days because he didn't have a contract. He signed a five-year contract Monday worth about $41.5 million, including roughly $17 million in guaranteed money. ... RB Clinton Portis missed practice after a flare-up of tendinitis in his knee. "It got agitated," Gibbs said. "It's got a little swelling in it." ... TE Pete Schmitt (shoulder), WR Mike Espy (bruised knee), LB Dallas Sartz (strained hamstring) and TE Tyler Ecker (groin) also at sat out