By Mike Wise
Monday, May 10, 2010; D01
Albert Haynesworth couldn't stand John Palermo, his defensive line coach last season, and therefore wasn't a big fan of practice. But even teammates could not believe his abject apathy as he sat on the side of the field while they were going through drills on one day last season, when Big Al had another little "owie."
"My ankle hurts," he complained in that soft, lilting voice that makes coaches lose their minds.
Phillip Daniels was playing through a torn biceps tendon that day. Another player later remarked, "I think that's the same day I was practicing with three cracked ribs."
I could make a lot of bad jokes about Haynesworth's ballooning weight and physical fitness, mostly his lack thereof. I could keep calling him Mr. Butterworth and Albert Ain'tworth and lace into the Redskins' previous regime for even offering this ingrate of a player a $100 million contract -- the largest ever signed by a defensive player in the NFL.
But all that would serve to do is get Big Al and his supporters angrier toward the press. And he gets to keep playing the victim while casting the media jackals as the perpetrators who just cannot understand why a man of his supreme size and talent is broken up about having to play in a new defensive scheme, so much so that he refuses to take part in any voluntary workouts with other veterans in Ashburn.
Instead, I'm going to cut deeper than that, right to the heart of the matter, to the only thing that may wake the man up from his selfish slumber:
Albert, the people you play with think you're a bad teammate.
Oh, many like you as a person, love going out and eating dinner with you, laughing, talking. They think the world of your bull-rushing talent and your competitive drive once you get on the field.
But most don't respect you as a professional.
That's not a media-driven thought; they, too, see you as petulant, a big baby when it comes to change and authority, and are almost dumbfounded that the No. 1 free agent in the NFL a year ago has somehow morphed into the top-ranked malcontent in pro football.
As with fans and us, they want to know: How'd this happen? Was it always about you?
Some of them, like Daniels, have called you; reached out by e-mail like Donovan McNabb; told you Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense has an end spot reserved for you; that other people have been brought in to play nose tackle and take on two and three lineman at a time so you can do your mountain-
moving thing and crumple the quarterback.
"From what I'm told, he can play the end spot," Daniels said. "I've called him and told him that. The thing is, we have 100 percent participation if he is here. It's now 99. He's got to be here."
The 37-year-old defensive end overcame anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction a season ago to resume his career. His knee will be scoped soon to clean out debris. Daniels began shaking his head about Haynesworth on Saturday as the team finished practice during its weekend minicamp.
"There is no room for negotiation at 4-12," he added, speaking of the team's woeful record last season. "I'm here, [London] Fletcher's here, everybody's here," Daniels added. "He's got to understand that. We need him to come here, be here and show these young guys that the veterans have bought in and that we want to win games."
Mike Williams didn't want to delve too far into the Bash-Albert conversation. But he was like a lot of Redskins this weekend, wondering why everyone else has bought in except the highest-paid player on the team.
"Albert carries so much weight with him, there's a lot of young guys that look up to him," said the veteran offensive lineman. "But you got to be here. . . . He's a grown man. With that comes responsibility. I think a lot of people say, 'Hey, you have a responsibility to this team.' There are a lot of other guys here that would like to be home. But obviously not, because there is a responsibility we have to this team."
It's not just about camaraderie and pledging allegiance to Mike Shanahan, Bruce Allen and the new republic; it's also about learning a new job on the fly.
"This is the type of game you have to buy in or get out," veteran safety Reed Doughty said, speaking of the changes confronting the team's players now that Shanahan is coach. "There's nothing I can really say to [Albert] except the more that we're here together, the more that we're working together -- not just from a team standpoint but from a chemistry standpoint.
"If LaRon [Landry] wasn't here and we're working on first team, we're not working together. There are a lot of nuances of the games beside just Xs and Os, like trusting each other on the field. Like today, I know everything on paper. But you get out here, they start motioning and start checking -- you make a few mistakes. Those are the things we're trying to get cleaned up. You come into camp just learning the Xs and Os, we don't got a chance."
See, it's one thing to profess your independence to your new bosses. Or expect your apologists to actually buy into the notion that you're working out on your own with some incredible fitness guru who knows your mind and body. It's quite another when everyone but you showed up, when the people you have to play beside -- the ones who will have your back September through December -- began calling you out for what you are: Different -- for no discernible reason, other than you really don't care about them.
"It says this is voluntary, but for us, what we went through last season after a 4-12 season, it's mandatory," Daniels said. "He should definitely be here. And it's a shame he's not."