Washington Redskins ready to focus on football, not Albert Haynesworth 'drama'

Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; 12:23 AM

As the Redskins returned to practice and Coach Mike Shanahan and his controversial defensive lineman, Albert Haynesworth, bit their respective tongues, attention focused at least momentarily on the football field Monday. And there, regardless of which medical condition has ailed Haynesworth or what he thinks about the head coach, "he's got a ways to go," said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

Midway through the preseason schedule, Haynesworth is still working out with the second-string defensive line and coaches say they can't predict when he might be ready to join the starters. After missing nearly three full practices last week, Haynesworth participated fully on Monday, lining up at both nose tackle and defensive end.

But even if tensions between Haynesworth and Shanahan somehow cool, the defensive lineman still has plenty of work ahead of him.

"Think about it," Haslett said. "We've been out here a long time. You add up all the [organized team activities] . . . minicamp, and practices here, I'd say it's over 40 practices, and he's got six in. He's got a ways to go. He needs to practice these next three weeks, practice at a high level and play well. And then we'll see where he's at from that standpoint."

After a tumultuous weekend, when Haynesworth criticized the team for trivializing his illness, followed by news that he was suffering from rhabdomyolysis, a condition marked by the breakdown of skeletal muscle, both sides were careful with their words Monday. Haynesworth declined to answer questions in the locker room, and Shanahan refused to respond to Haynesworth's Saturday postgame comments or discuss their relationship.

While Shanahan did not discuss Haynesworth's health woes, he did reveal after practice Monday that he has spoken with the disgruntled defensive lineman.

"I'm not going to go through the communication that I had," Shanahan told reporters. "I had a conversation with Albert. I don't discuss that for obvious reasons. And if you guys want to talk about football, we'll talk about football. But [to] keep on talking about things outside of football is completely ridiculous."

Shanahan wasn't the only person who pulled Haynesworth to the side on Monday. Following the team's morning walk-through, linebacker London Fletcher, last year's defensive captain, met with Haynesworth for several minutes near the back entrance of the building. After their discussion, Fletcher spoke with reporters and said the team is ready to move forward.

"We're not going to have any issues," Fletcher said. "Sometimes there's frustration that takes place on football teams. Moving forward, I think we'll be great."

In the locker room, players have clearly grown tired of discussing the ongoing soap opera, which has been among the league's biggest preseason stories, dominating headlines and highlight shows.

"At some point, you got to stop going back and forth with it," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "But I think Albert has been doing a good job until then. Just a bad judgment call on his part, as far as forcing it out.

"You can't go back and forth in the media with this type of thing," he continued. "It's only going to cause distractions and this is all we're going to focus on. We're not going to focus on the game and what happened in the game, what's going on with the Jets. We talk about Albert and Coach Shanahan going back and forth. Frankly, I'm tired of talking about it."

Wide receiver Devin Thomas called Redskins Park "drama city" and said: "it's getting tiresome, always hearing about some Albert problems. But like I said, hopefully things can get solved and all that can stop, just focus on football."

That's what the team's coaches are trying to do. On Saturday, Haynesworth sat out the first half and entered the game in the third quarter. "He did play 19 to 20 plays and got a little tired at the end, which is typical for somebody that misses a few days of practice, even though he did work out Friday - we got a little running in," Shanahan said.

"But we felt like we needed to work him some in that nose tackle position, which is kind of like a workout."

Haynesworth looked well in limited action, tallying his first sack of the preseason. But he also left the game on a third-down goal-line situation. Shanahan declined to say whether Haynesworth was too winded to participate in the play. But clearly, he still believes Haynesworth has to get in better shape to contribute at a peak level.

"Sometimes I've got to practice a guy and get some playing time in a preseason game just to get back in football shape," Shanahan said. "But people will practice if they're going to play during the regular season. He needed some reps in there, that's the only reason we put him in."

Haynesworth did take some first-team reps with the Redskins' nickel package last week, but it's not clear what he'll be asked to do Friday night when the Redskins visit the New York Jets.

Of course, that could be looking too far ahead. Haynesworth's relationship with the coach - and his role in the defense - is still a day-to-day process.

"He's just got to get going. That's all," Haslett said. "It's time to stop all this and let's go."

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