By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 30, 2009
After several months spent house-hunting throughout Northern Virginia, Washington Redskins Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth still has not found quite the right place.
"I've been all over," he said last week in a phone interview. "I've probably looked at like more than 40 different houses in a lot of areas, and it's just really, really crazy. You want to find something so you can get locked in and get comfortable, but I don't know when that's going to happen now."
Things are clearer for Haynesworth in his career. In February, the Redskins lured the two-time all-pro performer from the Tennessee Titans with the most lucrative deal in league history for a defensive player -- a seven-year contract that could be worth as much as $115 million. The package's $41 million guaranteed set an NFL mark that was eclipsed in April when the Detroit Lions committed $41.7 million to quarterback Matthew Stafford, the top pick in this year's draft.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder made another big splash in free agency to acquire Haynesworth, widely considered the league's most dominant defensive player the past two seasons, in an effort to transform a defense that finished last season ranked No. 4 overall but produced too few big plays. Haynesworth said he is eager to settle into his important new role for the Redskins, and his work resumes Thursday when training camp opens at Redskins Park.
"It's time for football," Haynesworth said. "It's time to forget all that talk about contracts and all that other stuff. It's time to put everything from [the offseason] behind, go out there and get back to work."
Haynesworth resolved a legal matter July 9 when he pleaded no contest to reckless driving, a Class B misdemeanor, stemming from a December accident in Tennessee in which another driver was seriously injured. He was ordered to spend three months on supervised probation, make a $5,000 donation to a charity, and complete 25 hours of community service and an eight-hour defensive driving class.
In addition, the league is investigating the Titans' allegations that Washington had improper contact with Haynesworth before he became a free agent, which could result in the loss of draft picks if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell determines the Redskins violated tampering rules.
Haynesworth's decision to leave the Titans, his record deal with the Redskins, the traffic accident and ensuing criminal charges and the tampering investigation (Haynesworth and his agent, Chad Speck, were among those the league planned to interview, an NFL source said) generated increased scrutiny the seven-year veteran would rather have avoided.
"I'm not the type of guy who needs the media attention and stuff like that," said Haynesworth, who rebuilt his career after struggling to overcome anger-management issues, including the longest suspension in league history for on-field behavior (five games) after he stomped the helmetless head of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode in 2006.
"I just want to do my job, play the game and have fun. People think they know you from reading stuff about you or watching stuff on TV, they think that's who you are, but they really don't know you. I don't worry about it because some people are going to think what they want no matter the truth. I just do what I need to."
With the start of camp, Haynesworth plans to focus on becoming familiar with the Redskins' way of doing things. He has worked in only one system since he entered the NFL, and the Titans and Redskins take different approaches.
"Just really learning all the new plays and things like that, that's the hardest thing," Haynesworth said. "Other than that, once I get all that stuff down, then the rest should be easy. Then it's just the same game of football. But you do have to learn different terminology. I don't know how long it should take for me to get it, but it shouldn't go into the season.
"It might go into training camp and the preseason, but it shouldn't be that big of a deal. I like to group things together [when memorizing plays], and I only try to have about three or four groups to remember. I like to break it down that way, and as long as I keep doing it the way I've always done it, I should be okay. I'll just do what I've always done and I'll be fine."
In schemes under defensive coordinator Greg Blache -- as well as his predecessor, Gregg Williams -- defensive tackles, for the most part, have been assigned to occupy blockers to help linebackers make big plays. Having linemen fill the role of "space eaters" helped Washington to four top-10 finishes defensively in the past five seasons. During minicamp, however, Blache signaled his willingness to change the approach with the defensive line because of the addition of Haynesworth, who is uniquely agile and quick for a man of his strength and size -- the Redskins measured him at 6 feet 6, 350 pounds.
"The big picture is that we want to win and we want to do whatever it takes to win," said Haynesworth, who regularly drew double teams, collapsed the pocket and created opportunities for others with the Titans.
"They brought me in to do the same things I did at Tennessee. If they're going to make little changes, in order for me to do that, the bottom line is to win games, be productive and perform at the highest level. That's what's important."
In the past, players have had little freedom to freelance in the Redskins' defensive system. The scheme has been highly successful, in part, because of the emphasis it puts on discipline and each player performing his assignment. Haynesworth thrived in Tennessee's system because he relied on his instincts, and the Titans' coaching staff gave him more latitude to maneuver than other players.
"If I could see what was going on, what the offense was doing, then I would kind of just adjust to it myself," Haynesworth said. "Most of the time it worked. Really, there were only a couple of times it didn't work. As you get older and you play this game more and more, you know when to do it and when not to do it.
"A lot of times, I'd go to the sideline and tell the defensive coordinator what they're doing, what we're seeing, and that would help a little bit. It's just pretty much learning the game and getting a feel for it. Once you have that, there's a lot of stuff you can do to make plays and help other guys make plays."
The Redskins plan to rely on Haynesworth to provide a major boost to their sack total. They were tied for 28th in the league with only 24 sacks last season, while Haynesworth had a career-high 8 1/2 sacks.
"I can get better. I honestly think I could," he said. "I missed some opportunities some games. I can get better in the run and a little bit in the pass. You can always get better. You can always find something. You're never perfect, so I keep looking to keep getting better, keep learning and keep improving.
"But I wouldn't just look at my own personal numbers to say how I'm playing. I would look at the team numbers and the total defense. That's how I measured up with the Titans. You never heard a whole lot about me before the last couple of years, but you saw how we played as a team. Like I said, it's all about the team's success."