Relationship between Albert Haynesworth, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is key for Redskins

Two days before the Redskins begin training camp, quarterback Donovan McNabb says "the team is looking for great things to happen" this season. McNabb spoke to reporters at a book signing in downtown Washington.
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Their only meeting was a disaster. Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett acknowledges he did not enjoy speaking with defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth in January and people close to the Pro Bowler say he felt similarly about Haslett.

Although that's not the best foundation for an effective professional relationship, Haslett and Haynesworth could quickly become allies when training camp begins Thursday. And that potential union may play a big role in whether Washington's new 3-4 defense succeeds this season.

Obviously, Haslett was among many at Redskins Park displeased about Haynesworth's decision to stay away from Ashburn for all but one day of Coach Mike Shanahan's first offseason program, and publicly request a trade after receiving a $21 million check from the team.

Haslett, who has complete control of the defense, was willing to accommodate Haynesworth to a certain extent, team sources said. He planned for Haynesworth to line up primarily at defensive end, on the guard's outside shoulder, the position Haynesworth has played since college.

But Shanahan, still angry over Haynesworth's defiance, often has emphasized that Haynesworth will be Washington's "starting nose tackle," a position Haynesworth is not interested in playing.

Shanahan hired Haslett to convert Washington's defense from its methodical 4-3 of the past two seasons to an aggressive, 3-4 attack capable of producing a large number of turnovers. The change is a major part of Shanahan's blueprint to restore the Redskins to prominence, and Haslett, who directed the Pittsburgh Steelers' strong 3-4 for three seasons in the late 1990s, knows better than most what it takes to make the scheme work.

The 3-4, in theory, enables defenses to apply more pressure on quarterbacks than the 4-3, while better disguising coverages and blitz packages. As always, though, everything starts along the lines, and there Haynesworth is a difference-maker like few others in the NFL.

If Haynesworth, who is beginning his ninth season, reports in shape (he is in good condition, sources say), studies hard and works on the field, Haslett will find ways to best utilize him. Putting players in positions to succeed is what Haslett has done throughout his career as a coordinator and head coach. He was selected the NFL's coach of the year in 2000 with the New Orleans Saints. And Haynesworth is arguably the team's most talented player, regardless of position.

Haynesworth now accepts that the Redskins will not trade him unless they are overwhelmed with an offer. Several people who have spoken with the two-time all-pro in the past few days say he expects to be in Washington this season and would rather not be at war with the organization.

He also was not pleased with his performance last season. He has confided to friends that he wasn't at his best, and is eager to reestablish himself as the league's premier defensive lineman. Haynesworth clashed with former Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache last year and longed for the system Detroit Lions Coach Jim Schwartz built around him when Schwartz led the Tennessee Titans' defense.

The protective cocoon Haynesworth enjoyed in Tennessee probably won't exist again in his career. Schwartz recognized that Haynesworth is a unique player and crafted a scheme to maximize his ability to penetrate the backfield.

But some of Haynesworth's teammates are confident Haslett can help Haynesworth achieve many of the goals important to him, even if he has to play nose tackle, which might not occur as much as Haynesworth initially envisioned.

There is optimism in the complex that veteran nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu, who sat out the 2009 season because of an Achilles' injury, will be recovered to start the season. In a positive sign, the Redskins recently sent Ray Wright, the new strength and conditioning coach, to Hawaii to help Kemoeatu continue preparing to resume his career.

If Kemoeatu is at full strength to start the season, Haynesworth probably would start at end and shift to the nose on third down and in other obvious passing situations. But that's not a full-time assignment.

With a lot to still play out, perhaps Haslett and Haynesworth will have a better second encounter this week.

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