By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 12:38 AM
Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was born in South Carolina and now resides for much of the year in Northern Virginia. But Tennessee, he says, is home. He has a house in Knoxville and a condo in Nashville. He has children there, too. Not to mention a rich and successful past.
Tennessee is where Haynesworth's football career flourished, where he was considered one of the game's best defensive players.
"[Sometimes] I wish I was still back there because I feel like I could still be dominant," Haynesworth said Wednesday. "People still think that I'm not playing as good as I can or whatever. But all of it ain't about the player. Sometimes it's the scheme a little bit."
Haynesworth left the Titans and signed with the Redskins as a free agent in February 2009. Eighteen games into his career with the team, almost nothing has gone as planned. With the struggling Redskins playing at the Titans Sunday, Haynesworth returns to Tennessee for the first time as a visiting player.
It's also the first time he's been home since his younger brother, Lance McCoy, was killed in a motorcycle accident last month in Nashville, assuring a powerful mix of emotions for Haynesworth this weekend.
"I think of my brother every day. It doesn't matter where I'm at," he said. "I know it only happened seven or eight miles away from the stadium. He's still close to me, he's still with me and I think about him every day."
Despite the drama that has surrounded much of his time in Washington, Haynesworth said Wednesday that he's as happy on the field right now as he's been since he arrived in town. He's still not starting and is still playing primarily in nickel packages and passing situations, but he's pleased with how coaches are using him.
"I still think about the good old days and stuff like that. But you got to move forward as a person," he said. "This is a good experience for me."
Haynesworth has been a non-factor for the Redskins at times this season but also has provided glimpses of the defender who was twice named an all-pro and was the hottest commodity on the free agent market before the 2009 season.
Haynesworth said Greg Blache, the Redskins' defensive coordinator last season, used him solely as a "showpiece," and he never felt comfortable in the 3-4 defense that Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett installed this offseason. It wasn't until last month that coaches abandoned their plans to force Haynesworth to play nose tackle in the 3-4.
"We really found a niche on how to use Albert and let him go," said linebacker Brian Orakpo. "In the 3-4, the base defense, Albert doesn't like two-gapping, he's not really good at two-gapping, because he's always been a penetrating type of guy throughout his career. We find ways to just use our nickel, use our other packages where we can just let him go create havoc and get up the field and make those big plays."
But the results still have been mixed. Haynesworth has drawn a lot of criticism this week after ESPN's cameras caught him slow to react to one particular play in the third quarter Monday against Philadelphia. Haynesworth hit the ground and remained there as the play unfolded around him. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick kept moving and eventually found wide receiver Jason Avant for the team's seventh touchdown of the game.
Haynesworth said on Wednesday that he suffered a charley horse on the play from teammate Vonnie Holliday and stayed on the ground because he thought he heard an official blow a whistle.
As his status has been downgraded from Pro Bowler to reserve lineman, there have been plenty of lowlights for Haynesworth in Washington. Even though he's having an impact on far fewer games than fans had hoped when he arrived with so much fanfare last year, statistically, his time here isn't that different from his days in a Titans jersey.
Haynesworth has played 18 of the Redskins' 25 games since owner Daniel Snyder made him the game's highest-paid defensive player. In that time, Haynesworth has posted 75 tackles - 51 of them unassisted - and six sacks. The only turnover he's been involved in was a fumble recovery last season.
By comparison, in the final 18 games he played in Tennessee - a period in which Titans Coach Jeff Fisher called him the best defensive player in the game - Haynesworth was involved in 83 tackles, 51 of which were solo, and posted 91/2 sacks. He also was part of five turnovers, forcing four fumbles and recovering another.
In Washington, Haynesworth's lack of productivity has been especially noticeable against the run. He's registered just 21/2 stuffs - tackles for a loss - since joining the Redskins, according to Stats, Inc. He had 81/2 stuffs in his final 18 games with the Titans.
"Clearly, you're seeing the same things on tape that we got from him, and that is that he is a real impact on passing situations," Fisher said on Wednesday. "He is very disruptive collapsing pockets and dictating protections. When he plays, he is real impressive to watch."
Asked if Haynesworth still could be a consistently explosive player, Fisher said: "He is when he is on the field, yeah."
Haynesworth said he had to leave Tennessee because "they never pay their defensive linemen," and he thought coming to Washington, he'd be more appreciated and free to make big plays. It wasn't until recently, he said, that this has proved even slightly true.
He's "starting to feel appreciated," he says, and likes the way Haslett is using him on defense. But even as he grows more comfortable, it might be difficult to change minds in Washington. With a $100 million contract involved, expectations were equally rich.
"They always going to try to find something to pick at him about. Eyes are on him so much that he don't have room to breathe," said defensive end Phillip Daniels. "He's done what he needs to do. He goes on the field, he helps out in nickel situations. That's what they ask him to do. He's doing it. I tell people to move on."
As for Haynesworth, he's aware of the perceptions - and possible misperceptions - that seem to exist for so many in the fan base.
"People probably don't think that I care about the Washington Redskins. That's not true," he said. "I have a lot of great friends on this team. I think we do a lot of things great together. As far as thinking that just because I got paid, I'm not going to play, that's not true either. I've always said if you just put me in the right situation then I'll be prosperous."