As Dallas game looms, McNabb, Haynesworth show improvement
Just a couple of days ago, Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb was recovering from injury, his status for the season opener up in the air. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth saw his relationship with the team suffer further injury, his exact role with the team inching closer to being down for the count.
But as the Redskins began preparations for Sunday's season opener against the Dallas Cowboys and players reported for practice, McNabb showed no lingering effects from the ankle injury that limited him to only two preseason games. And Haynesworth received a post-practice report that seemed to indicate coaches are pleased with his progress.
McNabb took snaps with the first-team offense Monday afternoon and after practice, Coach Mike Shanahan said, "he's ready to go." Running back Clinton Portis and fullback Mike Sellers also were healthy enough to practice with the starters, after minor injuries sidelined each one late in the preseason.
As for Haynesworth, team sources indicated that video of last Thursday's preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals revealed an "awful" performance. Shanahan said Monday that Haynesworth is "getting better," but the coach declined to discuss details of Haynesworth's play against the Cardinals, a game in which the two-time all-pro played 49 of 55 snaps, mostly against Arizona's reserves.
"I don't go through a lot of detail, but anytime a person plays the defensive end position and nose position, it takes some time - it doesn't happen overnight," Shanahan said on Monday. "He played a lot of plays. I thought he did a good job, considering he played as many plays as he did at a couple different positions. And not having the reps some of the other players had at it, it was work that was well needed and he played hard."
Even though Haynesworth isn't expected to start against the Cowboys, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said he lined up with both the first- and the second-team defenses in practice on Monday.
While Haynesworth could still play an important role in the game, particularly in the nickel packages, Haslett said it really doesn't matter whether Haynesworth cracks the starting rotation.
"Whoever plays in this game, we alternate [so] it doesn't make a difference," Haslett said. "You can say they start, they don't start - it really doesn't make a difference because whoever is up, all of them play."
If Haynesworth doesn't take the field at the onset of Sunday's game, the starting defensive line will likely consist of nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoateu and defensive ends Adam Carriker and Kedric Golston. Haynesworth would likely relieve both Kemoateu in the middle and Golston at right end.
Coaches made clear when Haynesworth skipped the team's offseason workouts that he'd be missing essential practice time learning the new 3-4 defensive scheme and would start the preseason behind his teammates. Since passing his conditioning test and fully joining his teammates 10 days into training camp, Haynesworth has lined up with the defensive reserves in practice.
Coaches had hoped he'd pick up the defensive principles and techniques in time to join the starting rotation and contribute once the regular season began. While he'll likely come off the bench Sunday against the Cowboys, coaches have still noted his progress.
"It's just he hasn't been here that long, if you think about it," Haslett said. "He had the five practices in training camp, then you got another five. So you're talking about 12, 13, 14 practices. So I think he's finally, it's starting to come around."
Shanahan said Haynesworth is "in much better shape now than he was before" and that he believes the two-time all-pro is beginning to adjust to the new techniques needed in a 3-4 front.
"As I said, it's just not the effort, you got to get used to the technique," Shanahan said. "So when you play a couple different positions, it's going to be tough, that's just part of it. But he worked hard and made a few mistakes here and there, but he's getting better."
Shanahan has preached his one-day-at-a-time message throughout the preseason and that seems be an especially pertinent theme when it comes to Haynesworth. Coaches will continue to monitor his progress, but six weeks after Haynesworth reported to training camp and began to first digest the tenets of Haslett's scheme, coaches still won't commit to starting him.
"Hopefully as the season goes on, the first two or three games, you'll get better and better," said defensive end Phillip Daniels. "But right now, he's improved a lot since the first day he got here. You can't ask him to do much more than that, just keeping improving."
"He's learning every day, he's improving every day, that's all you can ask," Daniels said. "It's time to move on to football and not even worry about that stuff."