Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan stands firm on Albert Haynesworth

By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010; 11:47 PM

If you're waiting for Mike Shanahan to be the first to flinch in his ongoing standoff with Albert Haynesworth, grab a cold drink and make yourself comfortable. We're going to be here awhile.

Thursday morning's latest developments were simple: Haynesworth was unable to take the now-infamous conditioning test, meaning he missed his 13th practice, and the Redskins decided that he needed to undergo an MRI exam to determine the extent of his knee injury.

So if there is a knee injury - and I have no reason to believe there is not - will Shanahan relax his expectations regarding Haynesworth's fitness?

No, he will not.

Shanahan doesn't seem to be a difficult guy to read. In fact, he seems to be the "Goodnight, Moon" of football coaches. You do not have to parse his message, looking for hidden agendas and veiled threats.

Asked if the potential knee problem would change his requirements for Haynesworth, Shanahan said: "You can't practice if the knee's not strong enough. You can't do drills and push off of it. You can't run and if you can't run, you can't play.

"Take a look at last year, how many games he played without practicing. We've got to make sure he can practice so he can stay healthy and play at a very high level."

Note the repetition of one word. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. In Ashburn, the question this summer is "How do you earn a spot with the Washington Redskins?" Same answer, but without the chuckles.

"I can't tell you how many - I've got all those stats in there - how many games he played where he didn't practice throughout the whole week," Shanahan continued, gesturing toward the Redskins Park offices. "If you don't practice the whole week. . . if you don't practice, you're not going to play well. You've got to practice well to play well.

"That's what NFL football's all about. Every once in a while you might get a guy in there who practices a little bit and has a good game. But if you don't practice consistently, it's hard to play consistently. That's what I'm after. I'm after him playing well for the whole season.

"If you can't practice, you're not going to get the job done. My job is to make sure he can play the best once we start our season. That's to get him in football shape. If he's not ready to go, we'll make sure that when he is ready to go he can go at full speed."

I will admit, I had begun wondering if Shanahan would lose the rest of the team in trying to get one guy to get with the program. I don't see any sign of that yet.

"I don't think so," center Casey Rabach said, "because the one thing that a lot of players like and I personally like about Coach is, 'It's this way, and that's the way we're doing it.'

"The best thing for this team is for Albert to get on the field with us, to help us win and accomplish goals. Hopefully he buys into the system, and everything ends up all happy and great."

"The team is 100 percent behind Coach Shanahan," echoed linebacker London Fletcher. "He's handling the situation as he best sees fit for the team and also for Albert. Right now he's dealing with a little injury. You have to make sure he's in the best shape possible."

And Shanahan clearly believes that that is not going to happen without Haynesworth's participation in practice. Haynesworth skipped all the offseason conditioning program and minicamps, both voluntary and mandatory. He knew he would have to pass a running drill when he arrived at Redskins Park, and failed to do so. Then came the knee injury.

That all means that Haynesworth - whose offseason recalcitrance was due to his lack of desire to play nose tackle - is well behind his teammates. And if he didn't realize he'd be graded on attendance, he wasn't paying close enough attention to the teacher.

Here's what Shanahan said Thursday about another nose tackle, Maake Kemoeatu, who missed last season for the Carolina Panthers because of a torn Achilles' tendon:

"Kemoatu's a guy that I was thinking about giving a day off, but he said, 'I'm behind, Coach, I gotta go.' For a guy that was off for a year, practicing two times a day all through OTAs, losing a bunch of weight, getting back in football shape, it's nice to see his mind-set and his conditioning has really improved."

You don't have to be a linguist, then, to determine what is important to Shanahan: offseason work, coming to camp in shape, practice. Especially practice. You may not agree with it - and Haynesworth clearly does not - but as long as Shanahan's got the big whistle, you ought to at least factor it into your decision-making process.

So practice-obsessed is the coach that when he was asked about this weekend's Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Rice, whom he coached for several years, he did not rave about Rice's acrobatic catches. Instead, he raved about . . . well, take a guess.

"Jerry is one of the best players if not the best player who ever played the game," he said. "I don't think I've ever been around a guy that practiced like he did. In the offseason, he'd been in there eight hours a day, he'd be relentless. Not only did he work out, but he studied film. His goal was to be the best that ever played the game at any position and he worked at it. In all the years I was with him, he never missed one workout, and I'd get in there at 5 o'clock in the morning and Jerry would be in there. He'd work out as hard as anybody I've ever been around."

Shanahan could not be more clear about his priorities. If Haynesworth hasn't figured that out by now, perhaps he needs some practice at that as well.

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