Can Redskins' Albert Haynesworth learn to love the nose tackle position?

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A short list of the greatest nose tackles in NFL history is sure to include four men who have several things in common with disgruntled Washington Redskins defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. Not one came out of college as a nose tackle. All heard horror stories about the position. None wanted the job.

Curley Culp, Fred Smerlas, Bob Baumhower and Ted Washington, who played in a combined 18 Pro Bowls as nose tackles over four decades, were shifted, moved or plugged into the position early in their careers against their will, better judgment and even sense of justice.

But unlike Haynesworth, who skipped minicamp in defiance after he learned of his pending switch from defensive tackle to nose tackle, they didn't believe they had any say in the matter. "I was stuck over the nose, and that was it," said Culp, who made four Pro Bowls after shifting to the position in his seventh season in 1974. "It was a struggle."

Their advice to Haynesworth? First, stop whining. Said Smerlas: "Should I get a napkin to wipe his fat tears? . . . The public does not sympathize with someone making $100 million."

Second and most important, give the position a chance.

All agreed that, despite its high pain quotient and low glamour potential, the nose tackle spot became increasingly enjoyable as they learned its nuances and realized its critical importance to the operation of the defensive scheme.

Washington, who retired in 2007 after making four Pro Bowl squads during his 16-year career, offered to tutor Haynesworth personally if Redskins owner Daniel Snyder were to summon him. Baumhower, a five-time Pro Bowler during his career with the Miami Dolphins from 1977-86, said he'd come out of retirement -- or, at least he'd like to (he is 54) -- if Haynesworth wouldn't line up where he was told.

"There are several things you have to realize," Washington said. "No. 1, you're not going to be getting all the glory. No. 2, you're going to be double- and triple-teamed at least 85 percent of the time.

"But it's fun. When you get good at it, you can make it fun."

In the beginning, the foursome agreed, it seemed like a cross between drudgery and torture. Lining up eyeball to eyeball with the opposing team's center appeared to represent an end to the good times they'd had in college or early in their careers. The 4-3 defense that all played previously features four down lineman instead of three, with two defensive tackles posted a few steps to the side of the center, between a pair of defensive ends.

The transition to playing nose tackle in a 3-4 defense meant they could no longer expect to blast unblocked into the backfield. No longer could they plan to swing around the outside or slip past a slow-footed guard to threaten the quarterback. It would be a struggle to make headlines and highlights.

Instead, they would face frequent double teams, brutal beatings, possibly meager statistics and obscurity, as the linebackers behind them made most of the tackles and reaped the glory.

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