Haynesworth sounds off on Blache, defense after being sent home

By Jason Reid and Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 26, 2009; D01

Frustrated with losing and what he says is the unwillingness of defensive coordinator Greg Blache to embrace change, Washington Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth could not "survive another season in this system if it stays the way it is," Haynesworth said late Friday afternoon.

In a lengthy phone interview shortly after he was sent home from practice by Coach Jim Zorn for disciplinary reasons, Haynesworth for the first time discussed his poor relationship with Blache and provided his most detailed explanation yet about the flaws, in his opinion, of Blache's disciplined scheme, which has helped the Redskins rank ninth overall in defense. Haynesworth expressed fear that owner Daniel Snyder's major investment in him -- the Redskins guaranteed Haynesworth $41 million in signing him this past February -- would be wasted unless he again is given freedom to "create havoc" as he did in his first seven seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

On Saturday, the Redskins will complete preparations for Sunday night's nationally televised game against the Dallas Cowboys. Haynesworth's status for the FedEx Field season finale, however, is unclear after the latest incident in one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.

"If they keep this system the way it is, then they would label Albert Haynesworth a bust who didn't live up to the contract," Haynesworth said. "Everybody would say he just took the money and ran off. And I'm still playing as hard as I possibly can. But you can only do so much within the system that's put around you. And I'm not talking about the players. The players have been great. I couldn't ask for any better guys. I'm talking about the system. And [the coaches] can say whatever they want about that [the reason he was sent home Friday]. The main thing it's coming from is what I said after the game about leadership and about the team."

After an embarrassing 45-12 loss to the New York Giants on Monday, Haynesworth questioned his role and said the team lacks leadership. Haynesworth, fined $10,000 after trading blows with Giants running back Brandon Jacobs during the game, made it clear he does not believe the style Blache has asked him to play in Washington suits him.

Asked directly whether those comments contributed to Friday's incident, Zorn immediately replied, "Not at all."

"Honestly, this was just something that happened just today," Zorn said after the practice session. "I think it's not unique to me. It happens around the NFL, and I see [these things] handled all the time. And hopefully I'm handling things in the proper way."

Zorn declined to specify the nature of Haynesworth's violation, but Haynesworth reported late for a team meeting on Christmas morning, multiple team sources said. He was told not to attend practice because of his tardiness, three sources said, but he walked out to the practice field anyway.

Haynesworth and Zorn had an animated conversation for about 10 minutes, during the portion of practice the media is allowed to watch, while players stretched. Blache eventually joined them; Zorn said Blache was alerting him that practice was beginning. Moments later, Haynesworth walked back into the facility, and soon left Redskins Park.

"I sent Albert home, just for disciplinary reasons," Zorn said. "I think that all that will be kept between Albert and I. He wasn't belligerent or nasty to me, and I was not nasty to him. It was just something that needed to be done. It's just between us and our football team, and I hope it stays that way."

Haynesworth acknowledged he was "about 20 minutes late getting to the meeting. I was late. I'll pay the fine. The thing that doesn't make any sense to me, they're talking about disciplinary action because I was 20 minutes late? I'm not going to throw anybody under the bus, but I've seen guys two hours late, show up right before practice on a normal day, and they get to do everything and [the coaches] just respond with, 'Whatever.' This is like the second time I've ever been late. In the preseason, I fell asleep and was like a couple of minutes late for a meeting. This is the second time I've ever been late for a meeting and I get sent home."

Haynesworth believes that Zorn used his tardiness as an excuse to discipline him because of the coaching staff's anger about his recent biting postgame comments. "They're all against me or whatever," he said. "But I know what I'm saying is right because I've been in a scheme that works."

In Washington's scheme, interior linemen, for the most part, are required to maintain their gap responsibility while occupying blockers in an effort to help linebackers make plays. And linemen are not permitted to rush as much as Haynesworth would prefer. "What [team officials] told me in the early hours of February [27] is that, 'We're going to let you play,' " Haynesworth said of Washington's sales pitch on the first day of free agency.

"We're going to change the scheme up, make it around you. We want you to do what you do. They might have changed a little bit [but] they don't let me rush. They call what Blache calls 'Hot,' a basic pass rush, maybe a few times a game. And half the time that's changed because of some formation. I disagree with their whole scheme."

Several times, Haynesworth has initiated closed-door discussions with Blache about the system, offering ideas on how the team might be more productive, people in the organization familiar with Haynesworth's actions said. But Blache has not been receptive, and the situation reached a boiling point in the last game.

"What made me do this [criticize the team's leadership and defensive scheme after the last game] is . . . he tells me, 'Get out of my face,' " Haynesworth said of Blache. "When I go up to him in the game it's like, 'Hey, we need to do this because this will help.' He tells me, 'Get out of my face. Go sit down. Go sit down.' Like I'm a kid or something like that. That's when I said what I said after the game. That's what made me respond the way that I did."

Blache is in his 22nd season in the NFL and sixth with the Redskins. Widely regarded as one of the league's top defensive minds, he has helped Washington's defense to four top-10 finishes. He has not spoken to the media since Oct. 8.

Haynesworth, though, is not the first high-profile player to feel constricted in his system. Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor was unhappy playing for Blache in 2008, his only season with the team, people within the organization said, and there has been grumbling in the locker room this season about Blache's approach.

"They don't want to take input. They don't," Haynesworth said. "[Blache] . . . doesn't want to change. I mean, I'm watching film, it's like, 'Dude, this day and age, you get killed the way that we're running stuff.' And we've got way more talent [than the Titans].

"We got great corners and safeties here that can play if they were used right. They make a million checks before the ball is snapped. Guys are sitting there thinking instead of reacting. Guys are sitting there thinking instead of playing. When you're sitting there thinking about what you're going to do when you're trying to run, you don't go as fast. When it's natural and it comes to you, you do it. You know? It's instinct. You know what I mean? What they want us to do is think and be robots. This is just ridiculous."

In 14 games with the Titans in 2008, Haynesworth had a personal-best 8.5 sacks, was credited with 51 tackles, including 41 unassisted, and had three forced fumbles. An ankle injury has sidelined Haynesworth in three of Washington's last five games. He has 35 tackles, including 29 unassisted, four sacks and no forced fumbles in 11 games.

"You brought me here to make us better and to create the havoc that I create. But you're not letting me do the things that we did" in Tennessee, Haynesworth said.

Zorn said Haynesworth would return to practice Saturday and would be allowed to play Sunday, but that was news to Haynesworth. "I don't know," said Haynesworth, who is due a $21 million roster bonus in March.

"I love the game and love to play, but it's up to them. They're the coaches. I don't know [if he would return to practice Saturday]. I guess, unless [Zorn] doesn't want me to be there. That's what he said today. He [didn't] want me to be there."

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