NFL Nation: Greg Blache
ASHBURN, Va. -- It’s 7:15 on a Friday evening at Redskins Park and coach Mike Shanahan has taken a short break from watching film of the morning's practice. The man who always appears to be five minutes removed from a tanning session is discussing a philosophy that’s served him well over the years, but came into question when he was fired in Denver after 14 seasons and two Super Bowl titles.
Now Shanahan and his hand-picked quarterback, Donovan McNabb, want to prove that both of their previous employers made a mistake. We’re talking about two of the most prideful men in the league, and in two separate conversations with the NFC East blog last Friday, they essentially said the same thing.
“Yeah, both of us are here to win a Super Bowl,” Shanahan said. “If you’re not in it to win a Super Bowl, then you need to find something else to do. I’m not ever going to comment on how things were done here before, but we had a philosophy that worked in Denver, and that’s what we’re going to follow.”
It’s worth noting that two years ago, players were hailing the unorthodox approach of Jim Zorn. He played music during practice and delivered lectures on designer jeans. He was sort of the lovable hippie -- right up until the team started losing. In ’09, the Redskins became the most dysfunctional organization in professional sports. Zorn couldn’t be shamed into resigning, so the Redskins simply stripped him of his dignity (and play-calling duties).
Dan Snyder hired Bruce Allen and Shanahan because he has lost so much credibility with Skins fans. Allen and Shanahan immediately began changing the culture at Redskins Park. This was a team crying out for some form of discipline, and Shanahan has delivered in spades. If a player doesn’t hustle between drills in practice, Shanahan will call their names after practice and tell them to run extra sprints. He also makes sure that every player keeps his shirttail in during those sessions. Shanahan can get away with this because of those two rings.
With one hire, the Redskins are once again relevant in the NFC East. Now, let’s take a closer look at their chances of making the playoffs:
THREE HOT ISSUES
“I told them to bring their wives and girlfriends because I wanted it to be a family affair,” McNabb told me. “When you’re around the facility, you always feel like you’re being watched. I thought it was a great opportunity for us to bond away from everyone else and start developing some chemistry.”
But Moss is the only thing close to a sure thing. We're still waiting for former second-round draft picks Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly to show some consistency. For now, they're listed on Shanahan's depth chart as third-stringers. McNabb may have to rely on the 38-year-old Joey Galloway to play a significant role in the offense. The good news for Skins fans is that McNabb once took receivers such as Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston to NFC title games on a regular basis.
2. When will Albert Haynesworth crack the starting lineup? Shanahan bristled when I asked him if Haynesworth was causing a "circus," but the coach must realize that the defensive lineman has dominated the headlines. I think the players were watching closely to see how Shanahan dealt with the brooding star. Now that he's finally passed the infamous conditioning test, Haynesworth will work as a backup defensive tackle. He'll eventually start at right defensive end, but it's not going to happen overnight.
Haynesworth could be a huge part of Jim Haslett's defense if he buys into what the coach is doing. I am eager to see whether this knee issue goes away in the preseason. Haynesworth needs more game repetitions than usual because of all the time he missed. If the knee prevents him from getting on the field, it will become another distraction.
And we'll see how Artis Hicks performs at right guard. I always thought he was a better option than Mike Williams (out for the year), but this unit needs a lot of work in the preseason. McNabb will bring a lot to this team, but he can't win a lot of games if he's constantly on his back. Ask Jason Campbell about that.
I was thoroughly impressed with free safety Kareem Moore. He was a sixth-round pick in '08 who didn't make much of an impact in his first two seasons. Now, it looks like he'll lock down a starting spot. He's had an excellent camp. He plays with a lot of confidence and he'll allow LaRon Landry to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
You knew that one of the veteran running backs would probably be out of the mix, but I didn't expect it to happen so early in the proceedings. Willie Parker is officially listed at the Skins' fourth-string running back. Hard to imagine him making the final roster unless there are injuries.
- I talked to one longtime Redskins observer who actually thinks Larry Johnson will have more carries than Clinton Portis this season. I don't see that happening unless Portis suffers an injury, but it's obvious that Johnson's in excellent shape. He's finishing off every run and he actually has shown a burst at times.
- Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter have a nice little battle going on at left outside linebacker. Alexander has been running a lot with the first team, but Carter, 31, will get plenty of playing time. You knew Carter would have a little trouble in coverage, but he's actually been step for step with running backs on a couple of occasions.
- Haslett is the best thing that could've happened to Carlos Rogers' career. The cornerback thought his career in Washington was over, but now Haslett believes he can turn him into an Antoine Winfield-type player. Haslett will take advantage of Rogers' size and he'll let him blitz more than in the past. (Adam Schefter has more on Haslett.)
- Brian Orakpo told me after practice Friday that Haslett's playbook has at least 20 more blitzes than Greg Blache's old version. He said it was a little overwhelming at first, but now he's not thinking as much. Orakpo had a nice rookie season, but he's about to become a breakout star. It's pretty amazing to have this many elite pass-rushers in the same division.
- Kedric Golston and Adam Carriker were running with the first-team defense Friday. It looked like the Redskins were working on their dime package, which features two down linemen. I think Haslett will be very creative with his fronts. He'll have some of the same concepts that we've seen from Dick LeBeau and the Steelers.
- Cornerback Justin Tryon made a nice recovery on a fly pattern to Roydell Williams on Friday. But Tryon hasn't done a lot in this camp to move up the depth chart. I think he's behind Kevin Barnes and maybe even Ramzee Robinson at this point.
- If you need a "Rudy" type of player to root for, let me point you in the direction of former Kansas State receiver Brandon Banks. At 5-foot-7, Banks isn't exactly a red zone target, but he's quick and appears to have good hands.
- John Beck rolled right and fired a bullet to tight end Lee Vickers in team drills. Former TCU linebacker Robert Henson reacted with some loud expletives because he came close to breaking up the pass. Beck had too many balls batted down when he was with the Dolphins. His arm angle's been too low in the pros, so we'll see if Kyle Shanahan can fix that problem.
Haynesworth has flourished in a 4-3 scheme in the past, but pretty much everyone believes he'll be able to adjust to Jim Haslett's 3-4 scheme in Washington. But to be sure, Schwartz does think there will be an adjustment period.
Schwartz then patiently explained the difference between 2-gap "guys' and "penetrating, attacking" players. He believes that Haynesworth has to be in a position where he's an "attacking player." And if you recall, that was part of Haynesworth's complaint about former Skins defensive coordinator Greg Blache. He didn't believe he was being turned loose to create havoc for opponents.
"I'm sure it will be an adjustment for him," Schwartz said of Haynesworth.
But the general thought is that Haynesworth is talented enough to succeed in any scheme. He might be more comfortable in a 4-3 scheme, but Haslett realizes that and will try to put him in winning situations.
OK, I'm off to visit with Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland about several topics.
It's believed that Shanahan wants Haslett to run a 3-4 scheme, which would place more of a premium on the pass-rush in 2010. With the arrival of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in '09, the Redskins increased their sack totals and there's reason to believe that outside linebacker Brian Orakpo could flourish in a 3-4 defense. I think Haynesworth's talented enough to play either nose tackle or defensive end in a 3-4, but I'm not sure Andre Carter will make a smooth transition to being an outside linebacker.
As I've already stated, it will be tough for a smaller player such as London Fletcher to function in a 3-4 scheme because he'll have to fight off 330-pound guards on a regular basis. If the Skins are truly going to make this transition, you'll see them draft some completely different types of players than in the past. Zimmer transitioned into a 3-4 defense for Bill Parcells in Dallas, but he was more comfortable using a 4-3 scheme. I think Haslett's a little more open-minded when it comes to the two schemes, so you could see some type of hybrid used until the Skins have the right personnel to make a complete transition.
I think players such as LaRon Landry and Rocky McIntosh should be thrilled with the arrival of Haslett. He'll do a better job of putting them in positions to succeed. Landry too often goes for the big hit and he's been awful against the deep ball. I think Haslett will play Landry closer to the line of scrimmage and allow him to function more like a linebacker at times.
Haslett's agent, Peter Schaffer, spoke to the Washington Post on Tuesday evening: "It's a situation where I think that Jim and Mike Shanahan have developed both a great respect over many years, as well as a friendship," said Schaffer. "I think they have a lot of similar philosophies, and there's definitely been a lot of communication."
I'm not sure where the Redskins' defense will rank next season, but I'm pretty sure they'll play at a higher level.
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A team-by-team analysis of the division. The arrow indicates which direction each team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: 4
Biggest surprise: It was obviously wide receiver Miles Austin becoming one of the top wide receivers in the league. When Roy Williams missed the Kansas City game with a rib injury, Austin burst onto the scene with a 250-yard day. His confidence just grew from there, and now he's Tony Romo's most-potent weapon. One of the most remarkable stories we've seen in the league this season.
Biggest disappointment: Has to be Williams. The Cowboys gave up valuable draft picks (round Nos. 1, 3 and 6) and gave him a $45 million contract. At this point, it's hard to say whether Williams is even the third-best receiver on the team. Patrick Crayton has certainly been more productive, and a lot of folks believe Kevin Ogletree could accomplish more than Williams. Despite what he says, there's no way Romo can trust Williams at this point. Williams doesn't get many passes thrown his way, but he's still managed to drop at least 10.
Biggest need: The Cowboys are surging into the playoffs, so there aren't a lot of needs right now. I suppose you could get picky and say the team needs an upgrade from Ken Hamlin at safety. He hasn't lived up to his lucrative extension and he's someone who's capable of giving up a big play at any minute. But it's not like this team has a ton of needs right now -- especially since Doug Free filled in so admirably for an injured Marc Colombo.
Team MVP: Romo's been outstanding down the stretch, but I have to give the MVP to Austin. In a lot of ways, he saved the season.
Mosley's crystal ball: I think the Cowboys will finally break through Saturday night and win their first playoff game since '96. I don't have a real good feel for how they would perform on the road, but a deep playoff run wouldn't shock me at this point.
Final Power Ranking: 7
Biggest surprise: DeSean Jackson has had an amazing season, but I don't think we're all that surprised after what he did as a rookie. You'd probably have to go with tight end Brent Celek, who belongs in the Pro Bowl with his eight touchdowns and 12-yard per catch average. He's brought a different dimension to the Eagles' offense, and could end up being for the Eagles what Jason Witten is for the Cowboys. That makes sense because Celek has patterned his game after Witten's since arriving in the league.
Biggest disappointment: Considering how much attention his signing received, I would list Michael Vick as a disappointment. I know he's receiving all sorts of courage awards, but let's not act like this experiment has been a huge success on the field. It was more of a sideshow that yielded a series of 3- and 4-yard carries and the occasional pass completion. Other than that, I think the injuries to Stewart Bradley and Shawn Andrews were certainly big disappointments. And you can throw Shawn's big brother Stacy into the disappointment file.
Biggest need: One of the reasons this team doesn't match up well with the Cowboys is that no one can cover Witten. Will Witherspoon and Jeremiah Trotter aren't the long-term solutions at linebacker. Getting back Bradley will help, but it's time to bring in more talent at the position, either via free agency or the draft.
Team MVP: It's obviously Jackson. He's emerged as one of the most-dangerous offensive players in the game. He's capable of scoring from anywhere on the field, and he's the most-exciting punt returner since Devin Hester was focusing on that area.
Mosley's crystal ball: I think this offense has become too reliant on the deep ball and the defense struggles against teams with potent weapons such as the Cowboys and Saints. The Eagles may come out with an inspired performance Saturday night, but I don't think it will be enough.
New York Giants
Final Power Ranking: 20
Biggest surprise: It's hard to find a lot of positives at this point, but Steve Smith emerging as a true No. 1 wide receiver has to rank near the top. He made big plays downfield and he continued to be a valuable third-down target for Eli Manning. Smith definitely deserved Pro Bowl consideration. When we look back at what went wrong, it will be difficult to point a finger at the wide receivers.
Biggest disappointment: It's obviously the defense. As Tom Coughlin said, this team lost its identity in the second half of the season. It couldn't stop the run, and the pass rush was almost non-existent. How can Pro Bowl players such as Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora suddenly go silent? It's a question this team has to answer in the offseason. Coughlin has already made one change by firing defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. That had to happen.
Biggest need: You better fix the situation at linebacker. Decide what you're going to do with veterans Antonio Pierce and Danny Clark, and then find a way to get younger and faster. Clint Sintim may be part of the equation, and young Jon Goff seemed to play well at times from the middle linebacker spot. Michael Boley had an up-and-down season because of injuries, but you have to figure out if he's the real deal. It's time to take a long look at this defense and then start making changes. You also need to find out why the running game regressed this season. If an injury to Brandon Jacobs slowed him down, bring in more reinforcements.
Team MVP: I'm having a difficult time with this pick. Let's allow Smith and Manning to share the trophy. I realize Manning had some less-than-stellar moments midway through the season, but he rallied and actually put up some pretty good numbers. You also have to admire that he never blamed any of his issues on what appeared to be a painful foot injury.
Mosley's crystal ball: General manager Jerry Reese and Coughlin need to solidify the offensive line. I think there are some tweaks that could allow the offensive line to become more effective. Take a long look at right tackle before you insert Kareem McKenzie back into the lineup. How did Will Beatty look at the position? I think the Giants will come back and be a factor in the NFC East race next season, but only time will tell.
Final Power Ranking: 29
Biggest surprise: I guess you'd have to say that Sherm Lewis going from calling bingo to calling plays for the Skins was a pretty major surprise. Dan Snyder didn't have the stomach to fire Jim Zorn when he stripped his play-calling duties in October because he didn't want to pay the man to sit around and do nothing. Thus began the slow march toward a 4-12 season.
Biggest disappointment: Based on the amount of guaranteed money he made ($41 million), I think Albert Haynesworth was a disappointment. He came across as a whiny brat as he took shots at defensive coordinator Greg Blache on Christmas. If you want to complain about a scheme, at least try to be on the field for the games. I'm not saying he was faking an ankle injury, but when you miss several games, I don't think it's wise to start going after the coaches. I know he has a lot of defenders out there, but the guy didn't impress me that much at all this season. I know what he's capable of doing because I watched him with the Titans. Haynesworth looked like a different guy to me. If you're an elite player, you should be able to flourish in any system.
Biggest need: Let's start with the offensive line. The Redskins tried 11 different linemen this season. Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan need to get to work on building a cohesive unit.
Team MVP: I think you can make a strong case for quarterback Jason Campbell, who decided at midseason to stop worrying about the offensive line and just focus on making plays. He had the best statistical season of his career, and I think Shanahan might be able to take him to a much higher level. I'd split the defensive MVP award between Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo. Some people want to give Haynesworth the credit for their success, but I saw them making plays when he was out of the lineup. Both of those guys are solid players.
Mosley's crystal ball: I think Allen and Shanahan will go down every path in order to improve the offensive line. It will be hard for Shanahan not to take a quarterback with that No. 4 overall draft pick, but he should take a long look at an offensive tackle at that spot. The Redskins have some premium picks in this draft, and it's the new regime's first chance to start putting its stamp on the organization. The free-agency crop should be pretty watered down because of the potential for an uncapped season. I wouldn't put too much stock in free agency.
1. Albert Haynesworth, Redskins defensive tackle: He picked an interesting time to take a few shots at the organization that guaranteed him $41 million. Haynesworth, who hasn't been able to stay on the field because of an ankle injury, was sent home Christmas Day for being 20 minutes late to a meeting at Redskins Park. He then fired a few shots at defensive coordinator Greg Blache's scheme via The Washington Post that evening. Let's use a little common sense, Albert. Every one of these coaches will likely be gone in a couple of weeks. Does it really do any good to throw them under the bus at this point? Haynesworth's reputation as an elite defensive tackle has exceeded his actual production on the field this season. But at least he talks a good game.
2. Giants' D-line: It's hard to single out someone since the entire group has struggled this season. But at some point you have to have some pride in stopping the run. Allowing Jonathan Stewart to go for 206 rushing yards in the final game at Giants Stadium is embarrassing. And go ahead and throw in the linebackers, too. They look slow at times, and when they're in position to make a play, they miss tackles. Bill Sheridan will probably lose his job as defensive coordinator, but I put more responsibility on the players.
3. Macho Harris, Eagles safety: I normally give rookies a little grace, but Harris has played enough this season to be held to a higher standard. His hit on a defenseless receiver after an Asante Samuel interception helped put the Eagles in poor field position. And after the Broncos had trimmed the Eagles' lead to 10 points, Harris fumbled a kickoff return to give Denver another quick score. If you're going to give Harris meaningful playing time in the playoffs, he has to use better judgment.
2. Brent Celek, Eagles tight end: He's emerged as one of Donovan McNabb's most reliable weapons. When the Broncos sold out to stop DeSean Jackson, it was Celek who burned them in the first half. He finished with four catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. And his one-handed catch in the center of the field was brilliant. Tony Gonzalez will probably get the most Pro Bowl votes in the NFC, but I think Jason Witten and Celek are playing at the highest level right now. Jackson gets most of the attention, but Celek's put up huge numbers this season.
3. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles wide receiver: The Eagles needed someone to make a big-time play at the end of the game and Maclin was up to the task. His 27-yard catch on the sideline with 59 seconds left against the Broncos put the Eagles in position to win the game, 30-27. He's made the adjustment from the spread offense in college to the West Coast offense a lot sooner than some of us expected. The combination of Jackson, Maclin and Jason Avant at wide receiver gives the Eagles one of the best groups in the league.
"If they keep this system the way it is, then they would label Albert Haynesworth a bust who didn't live up to the contract," Haynesworth told the Post. "Everybody would say he just took the money and ran off. And I'm still playing as hard as I possibly can. But you can only do so much within the system that's put around you."Even in some of my early conversations with Haynesworth during training camp, he admitted to having a difficult time adjusting to a new scheme. But even while the Redskins continued to lose in the first half of the season, Haynesworth was given credit for the increased sack totals of his teammates. Over the past month, Haynesworth has missed games because of an ankle injury and the defense was actually less effective Monday night upon his return to the lineup.
Haynesworth attributed his being sent home Friday to his comments following the Skins' loss to the Giants and said that other players had committed worse violations and remained at practice. His main message, though, was that Blache's scheme wasn't allowing him to be successful.
"They might have changed [the defense] a little bit [but] they don't let me rush," Haynesworth told the Post. "They call what Blache calls 'Hot,' a basic pass rush, maybe a few times a game. And half the time that's changed because of some formation. I disagree with their whole scheme."The tricky thing here is that you have a lame-duck coaching staff led by Jim Zorn. Blache is likely going to retire at the end of the season. Zorn is powerless in this situation, just as he's been since his play-calling duties were stripped early in the season. New general manager Bruce Allen must step in and make a decision.
Does he want to see Haynesworth play in this scheme for two more games or would it be better to simply make him inactive and blame it on the ankle injury? I don't think you have a ton to gain either way, but my guess is that Haynesworth will be on the field against the Cowboys on Sunday night.
Haynesworth should realize that he's about to be playing for another regime. There's really no point in causing a huge stir when your team is sitting on a 4-10 record. The changes Haynesworth's obviously hoping for were put in motion months ago. There's nothing to accomplish by going after Zorn and Blache at this point -- other than causing further embarrassment to the franchise.
Rick Maese of The Washington Post has a story today about the former Skins head coach-in-waiting. Williams' defense has forced 32 turnovers this season, including a staggering 22 interceptions. Every time you turn on "SportsCenter," Saints safety Darren Sharper is returning an interception for a touchdown. And here's what Sharper had to say about Williams:
"We always were known as a great offensive team and the defense is just adequate," Sharper told Maese. "We wanted to change that type of mentality, change that type of outlook on our defense. From day one, Gregg preached that to us, we're not going to be second-hand, play second-fiddle to anyone."
Redskins players are careful not to step on Jim Zorn's toes, but it's obvious that many of them thought Williams should have been the choice to replace Joe Gibbs.
"He's going to blitz and blitz and blitz even more," said Redskins defensive end Andre Carter. "Despite whatever the matchups may be. He expects everybody to get there and make plays."
Everyone at Redskins Park loves to throw out stats of how their defense is ranked in the top five, but it doesn't really matter. The Saints give up more yards than the Skins, but they cause far more turnovers. That's the mark of a Gregg Williams defense. And no matter how you slice it, Greg Blache's defenses haven't had nearly enough takeaways.
Who knows what Williams would've been like as a head coach for the Skins? But I'm pretty sure a lot of the team's fans would've enjoyed finding out.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11 in the Beast.
Can the Giants fix their issues on defense? The good news is that this is the healthiest they've been all season. There's even a chance that cornerback Aaron Ross finally returns to the field. The Giants have paid dearly for not having sufficient depth at safety. If Ross could actually move over and help them at safety, there could be a huge payoff. I also think this could be a big game for former Falcons linebacker Michael Boley. The team pretty much gave up on the speedy linebacker. Now, he has a chance to make them pay. The Falcons lose an important player with running back Michael Turner out this week. Quarterback Matt Ryan will have to get the job done, and he's been very shaky in protecting the footbally lately. He managed games so well last season that it's hard to believe that he could throw so many interceptions. The Giants need to get in his face early and not allow him to find a rhythm.
I think the Eagles will be much better on defense this week. And I'm not just talking about the fact that they'll be staring across from the interception-machine known as Jay Cutler. It looks like Joe Mays will step in at middle linebacker, allowing Chris Gocong to return to the strong-side spot. With Will Witherspoon at the weak-side position, I think the Eagles will look like a more athletic team. Mays isn't a star or anything but he's capable of covering running backs and tight ends. If Sheldon Brown can play through a hamstring injury, I think the Eagles will be OK in the secondary. If Brown can't go, the Eagles are going to be hurting. Quintin Mikell and Asante Samuel are both strong players, but they wouldn't have much help with Brown on the sideline. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott desperately needs his front four to generate most of the pass-rush. You don't want to be bringing a lot of blitzes with the way this secondary looks right now.
Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett needs to re-discover the running game. Garrett said the game plan got "out of whack" last week against the Packers because of some down-and-distance situations. Some of that's true, but he could've done more to establish the running game. What's the point in spending a first-round pick on Felix Jones if you're going to give him three touches in a tight game? Jones is one of the most explosive players on the team and Garrett has to dial him up this week. Owner Jerry Jones pretty much said the same thing this week. He wants to see the other Jones get more opportunities, so hopefully that happens.
Watch this matchup between Cowboys right tackle Doug Free and Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo. I realize that Orakpo's a stand-up linebacker on first down but he'll see plenty of action at defensive end. He's a strong player who loves to use the bull-rush -- and I think that's Free's biggest deficiency. The former Northern Illinois player moves really well laterally and he's what scouts call a good "foot athlete," but he can get overpowered. Look for Skins defensive coordinator Greg Blache to try and get Orakpo in one-on-one situations with Free. The Cowboys will try to counter that by helping out Free with tight ends. If the Redskins pull off the upset, I think Orakpo will have had a monster game. Keep that in mind this Sunday. And have a tremendous football weekend.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of candidates in what was once (three weeks ago) regarded as the top division in the league. But Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth receives the dubious distinction based on the insane amount of money he's receiving. For $41 million guaranteed, I think you'd like to see him make more of a difference.
|Streeter Lecka/Getty Images|
|The Redskins expected more from Albert Haynesworth when they signed him in the offseason.|
I don't really care about his numbers -- 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks -- because his presence alone was supposed to strike fear in the hearts of offensive coordinators. So far, Haynesworth appears to wear down in the second half of games and he appears to have the injury bug. The guy has rarely made it through an entire season, but he was still an unbelievable player for the Titans.
I don't even notice him that much on the Redskins. Personnel czar Vinny Cerrato thought that Haynesworth would be a catalytic player on the defense, setting up Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo for sacks because of his ability to occupy blockers. I'm not ready to call the signing a bust, but he hasn't been nearly as effective in Greg Blache's defense as he was in Jim Schwartz's.
This is man who had a contract dangled in front of him when he lived in Nashville. Now Haynesworth has been paid in full. He's capable of disrupting an offense, but I'd like to see him force a fumble or blow up several plays. Right now, his most impressive stat is three pass deflections. It's impossible to defend his play right now. He's being paid like the best defender in the game, but I can name three Redskins players who are having better years than him.
Every team has an underachiever or two -- but Haynesworth is the poster child for underachieving this season. And I think he would admit that if you asked him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:
|AP Photo/Tim Larsen|
|Brandon Jacobs will be looking to lift his 3.4 yards-per-carry average against the Chiefs.|
The Giants need to put the Chiefs away early. Early last season, the Giants struggled a bit with closing out bad teams. They barely beat the Bengals in the first half of the season and then they lost to the Browns. You don't want to give a team like the Chiefs any early hope. The Chiefs will do their best to take away the running game early and that's why Eli Manning will try to make a play downfield. If Hakeem Nicks (foot) is ready to go, this is a game where he could end up making a huge play. From what I can tell, Manning really wants to get on the same page with the rookie because they were starting to make some major progress late in the preseason. Good news for the Giants: Running back Ahmad Bradshaw is out of a protective boot and it looks like he's a go for Sunday.
Don't worry about style points. The Redskins simply need a win against the Bucs. Because of a relatively weak schedule, coach Jim Zorn has an opportunity to get this thing headed in the right direction. If the Redskins lose this game, I'm not sure how much longer Dan Snyder can stick with Zorn. The coach looked absolutely lost late in the Lions game. The hitch and pitch on the game's final play was laughable -- especially when Jason Campbell could've easily fired the ball into the end zone. Now Zorn and defensive coordinator Greg Blache are fighting over who should take the blame for the Skins' troubles. Well, how about we just point the finger at everyone? This organization isn't on good terms with its fan base right now. And a loss Sunday would cause even further damage. More than anything, Zorn HAS to commit to the running game in the first half. No excuses. If the Redskins can't pound away with Clinton Portis against Tampa Bay, then it will be a long afternoon.
I expect Brandon Jacobs to have a big game Sunday. I think Jacobs is angry about his 3.4 yards-per-carry average through three games -- and that's a good thing for coach Tom Coughlin and the Giants. He wants to come out and punish a young defense Sunday. There's been all sorts of speculation -- some of it from Tony Siragusa -- that Jacobs is tip-toeing around the line of scrimmage instead of running over people. I think it has more to do with Jacobs working to become a more complete back. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said that Jacobs may be trying to be too "perfect" in finding his holes. But on Sunday, I think you'll see Jacobs return to his punishing ways. He's the player who gives this offense an identity. It's time to get him going.
The Cowboys better realize that Elvis is in the building. That would be Denver's Elvis Dumervil, who has become a pass-rushing force in this league. He's certainly not a big guy, but he has an enormous amount of energy and quickness. With his low center of gravity, he can beat offensive tackles off the snap. Cowboys left tackle Flozell Adams has struggled with smaller, quicker players at times -- especially if he's not able to trip them. I would look for Dumervil to move from side to side looking for the most favorable matchups. He's definitely a player the Cowboys will have to identify before each snap.
|Geoff Burke-US Presswire|
|Albert Haynesworth gives Washington's defense a credible and consistent threat.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
If you simply looked at the overall rankings from the 2008 season, the Redskins' defense was among the best in the league. But that number couldn't cover up the fact that the Skins didn't create enough pressure and cause enough turnovers.
That's a big reason why owner Dan Snyder paid former Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth $41 million guaranteed to become the centerpiece of his defense. Haynesworth is the most dominant defensive tackle in the game and he's capable of drawing double and triple teams. With that one move, the Redskins' defense gained instant credibility in terms of becoming a disruptive force.
"It's pretty amazing to see how he goes about his business," said veteran defensive end Phillip Daniels. "He can blow up the pocket on his own and that creates a lot of opportunities for the rest of us."
According to several players, the presence of Haynesworth has made old-school defensive coordinator Greg Blache more daring in his approach. With young players such as first-round pick Brian Orakpo and third-round supplemental pick Jeremy Jarmon, Blache has a lot more speed and depth to work with.
Haynesworth told me that he and Orakpo have been coming up with "games" during practice that will hopefully lead to sacks and turnovers. Haynesworth is coming off an 8.5 sack season, but says that is a total he is not worried about surpassing in 2009.
"I could have two sacks and still be happy as long as I'm taking on triple teams," Haynesworth said. "I love it when a team has to send everyone my way. That's when I really feel like I'm doing my job."
Haynesworth's only made it through all 16 games once in his career, but that doesn't concern him in the least.
"I'd rather play in 14 games at 1,000 percent than go out there and limp around through 16," he said.
Who is going to end up as the No. 2 receiver?
Coach Jim Zorn is pleased with the progress that second-year wide receivers Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas are making. Kelly has shown a lot of maturity since struggling in last year's training camp. Quarterback Jason Campbell told me that Kelly has "crazy hands," which basically means he's snatching the ball from the air in traffic. Thomas is more of a deep threat. He's learning how to approach the game in a more structured way, which is helping him avoid some of the injuries that hampered him in 2008. I think he'll be the No. 2 receiver, but Kelly's not giving in.
|Drew Hallowell/Getty Images|
|Quarterback Jason Campbell enters this season with some extra motivation.|
How will Campbell fare in the final season of his contract?
Well, he couldn't have handled this situation with more grace. Snyder and Vinny Cerrato spent April looking for Campbell's replacement, but the quarterback kept showing up at the facility and trying to lead his teammates. The most important step he has taken is that he is getting through his reads a lot quicker. He'll take a peek at a receiver and then quickly move on. Last year, that wasn't happening all the time. He did a good job protecting the ball in the first half of the season, but now he needs to trust his instincts and take more shots downfield.
Could the lack of depth along the offensive line derail this season?
Absolutely. The Redskins haven't done a good job of drafting and developing offensive linemen. Right tackle Stephon Heyer is ready to take the next step at right tackle, but right now they have Mike Williams backing him up. Williams has been out of the game for three years and I still don't think he is anywhere close to being a starter. Derrick Dockery is certainly an upgrade at guard and left tackle Chris Samuels has recovered nicely from being banged up last season. But the season will hinge on the starters staying healthy. Jeremy Bridges gives you at least one backup with some experience, but things get dicey after that.
Carlos Rogers and Campbell played together at Auburn. They're both in make-or-break seasons. The Skins went out and spent big free agency money on DeAngelo Hall because he makes plays on the ball. Rogers has the size and athleticism to be a solid starter, but he hasn't always played with confidence. And I don't like hearing how inexperienced wide receiver Marko Mitchell keeps burning him in practice. This is the season Rogers needs to prove the Redskins made the right move taking him in the first round in 2005.
Newcomer to watch
I'm anxious to see how Orakpo takes to the SAM linebacker spot. He was a starter from Day 1. But what makes him an exceptional player is the fact that he chased down a bunch of Big 12 quarterbacks. Every time Orakpo has to drop back in coverage on first or second down is time he should be spending chasing the quarterback. Even Haynesworth told me he was surprised Orakpo wasn't lining up at defensive end all the time. But perhaps Orakpo will become a great linebacker. I just know that he could have a minimum of 10 sacks playing next to Haynesworth this season.
|Geoff Burke/US PRESSWIRE|
|Tight end Chris Cooley is showing improvement and could be poised for a huge season.|
Sometimes you have to admit you made a mistake in the draft and simply cut your losses. The Redskins should do that with second-year cornerback Justin Tryon from Arizona State. At 5-foot-9, he doesn't have the size or the elite speed to cover wide receivers at this level. He made the Ravens' receivers look like world beaters last week. And that's not a talented group of wide receivers. ... Santana Moss is the heart and soul of the offense, but not many people know that. He's a relatively quiet guy who commands a lot of respect. Some veterans wouldn't want to groom the players who will eventually replace them. But Moss has jumped in and been a great mentor for Thomas and Kelly. ... Chris Cooley is about to have a huge season. He may be a little goofy off the field, but his speed and improved route running make him the perfect target for Campbell. Cooley could break through as an All-Pro this season. And yes, I know Anthony Gonzalez is playing for the Falcons and Jason Witten plays for the Cowboys. ... Trent Shelton is one of those wide receivers who shows up to a training camp and makes it impossible to cut him. He's not a speedster at all, but he can help you on special teams and he has pretty good size and body control. He always worked over the Texas A&M defense while at Baylor and he's taken that confidence into this camp. ... I like Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson as the safeties for the Giants, but for my money, LaRon Landry and Chris Horton could emerge as the best pair in the NFC. Horton loves playing downhill and he made some game-changing plays in 2008. Landry has the potential to replace Ed Reed as the best safety in the game someday. Now's a good time for him to start on that project. ... Colt Brennan likes to talk big, but he didn't back it up against the Ravens. He needs to bounce back with a nice performance this weekend to have any shot at overtaking Todd Collins as backup QB. ... Tight end Fred Davis is showing a lot more maturity in this camp and I wouldn't be surprised to see him make an impact this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
BALTIMORE -- Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth didn't play in Thursday's preseason game against the Ravens, but he did take some time to visit with the NFC East blog. He discussed Michael Vick, Greg Blache's defensive scheme and his passion for Wal-Mart. Here's a portion of the interview:
What are your thoughts on having to face Michael Vick twice a season?
AH: I'm glad someone signed him. The man's suffered enough. But I've played with Steve McNair and Vince Young. Mobile quarterbacks aren't anything new to me.
Do you need to play in the preseason to feel comfortable?
AH: I'm going to play next week. I'd really like to get out there. I think playing next to my new teammates would really be beneficial.
You've only made it through a complete season once without some type of injury. Have you done anything to address that?
AH: I haven't done anything different. I'd rather go 1,000 percent through 14 games and help get my team in the playoffs than play all 16 and not be right. That's how I've been an All-Pro and a Pro Bowl player.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Training camp site: San Antonio
Campfires: The one legitimate camp battle that will take place features second-year cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins. Terence Newman's the obvious starter, but Scandrick, a fifth-round choice, will challenge Jenkins, a first-round pick. Scandrick was the more complete player his rookie season, but Jenkins has vowed to win the job -- via his blog.
|Al Bello/Getty Images|
|Dallas needs Roy Williams to improve upon his first season with the Cowboys.|
It might be interesting to keep your eye on the situation at left guard, where Kyle Kosier will try to hold off Montrae Holland and last year's fill-in, Cory Procter. Kosier has more experience, but Holland might have more athletic ability.
The running back rotation also will be intriguing to watch. The Cowboys have hinted about starting Felix Jones and returning Marion Barber to his cleanup role. I'm not sure it's the right way to go, but the Cowboys will certainly take a long look at it. Also take a look at the competition for the No. 2 receiver spot. Miles Austin appears to have the inside track, but Patrick Crayton's not ready to concede.
Camp will be a downer if ... Tony Romo and Roy Williams can't get on the same page. They had their moments during offseason workouts, but they didn't wow anyone. Perhaps Williams' dedication to weightlifting and conditioning will pay off.
I think the Cowboys also need Anthony Spencer to make a strong move at outside linebacker. If he doesn't take the next step or he ends up with another injury, it would certainly be a downer.
Camp will be a success if ... Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's able to implement a more balanced offense that utilizes the Cowboys' depth at running back. Garrett's under a lot of pressure to live up to his immense paycheck.
Success also means strong performances from free-agent additions Igor Olshansky and Keith Brooking. The Cowboys need Brooking to be an upgrade over Zach Thomas, who never looked totally comfortable at his inside linebacker spot in the vaunted Wade Phillips 3-4. One more thing: The Cowboys need to agree to an extension with DeMarcus Ware. That would help alleviate any potential tension with the team's best player.
Surprise, surprise: I think Sam Hurd will have an outstanding camp and could actually challenge for the No. 2 receiver role. He really impressed me during OTAs -- when he wasn't working with the trainers.
New York Giants
Training camp site: Albany, N.Y. (University at Albany)
Campfires: I'll have my eye on the running back competition from the start. Danny Ware wants to battle Ahmad Bradshaw for the right to replace Derrick Ward. But he has a long way to go to win the trust of the Giants' coaches. Rookie Andre Brown could emerge during camp as a key contributor. The rookie running back has won universal praise early in his time in the Meadowlands.
|William Perlman/US Presswire|
|Defensive lineman Chris Canty is one of the new faces the Giants are counting on.|
At linebacker, free agent Michael Boley was supposed to shore up some of the deficiencies in coverage. Now he's banged up and will serve a one-game suspension. The Giants will have some strong competition at linebacker with players such as Chase Blackburn, Bryan Kehl, Danny Clark and the talented but oft-injured Gerris Wilkinson.
Of course, we'll all be watching the competition at receiver. Can Hakeem Nicks break into the starting lineup in training camp? We're about to find out.
Camp will be a downer if ... The Giants don't see some of their young receivers take the next step. Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith should be serviceable as the starting duo. But the team would love for either Sinorice Moss or Mario Manningham (or both) to emerge as a viable threat. That would free up Nicks and Ramses Barden to sort of ease their way into the regular season.
Oh, and we can't forget Super Bowl hero David Tyree. He's looking for another book deal.
Camp will be a success if ... All of the new additions on defense (Rocky Bernard, Chris Canty, Boley, etc.) mesh early. I think Canty will flourish from the defensive tackle spot and he'll still be able to slip outside and rush in some situations. Those players should make Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora even more effective.
I also think it's time for Kenny Phillips to have a breakthrough season. If he has a strong camp, I think he'll be headed for Pro Bowl consideration.
Surprise, surprise: Give me Brown at running back. The Giants were thrilled to land him in the fourth round and Jerry Reese thinks he'll be in the mix for the No. 2 role behind Brandon Jacobs.
|Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMI|
|Brian Orakpo, drafted 13th overall by the Washington Redskins in April's draft, may split time between linebacker and defensive end this season.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
As an alum from a Big 12 South school, the departure of University of Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo is something I've been anticipating for years. He played a reserve role on Texas' national title team and by the time he finished his career, he was the best defensive end in the country. He's got Lombardi (best lineman), Hendricks (DE) and Nagurski (best defensive player) to show for his senior season in which he made 19 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and recorded 11.5 sacks.
With that in mind, I'm trying to determine why the Redskins' first order of business was moving him to strongside linebacker. That's where Orakpo lined up during a full-roster minicamp last weekend. Perhaps the Redskins were simply testing Orakpo, and they will eventually return him to being an every-down defensive end. Otherwise I'm not sure why they drafted him.
Orakpo spent the last four years playing with one hand in the dirt. From his rush-end position at Texas, he could line up on the outside shoulder of a left tackle and use his power and speed to hunt down quarterbacks. Playing the "SAM" linebacker position for the Redskins, he'd have to go through run/pass keys on first and second down, which doesn't exactly set you up for sacks.
Longtime scouts have told me that Orakpo could line up next to defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and "fall into" several sacks per season. Haynesworth demands so much attention that Orakpo would have success similar to what Kyle Vanden Bosch had for the Titans. But for now, the Redskins have indicated that Orakpo will line up at defensive end on third downs and obvious passing situations.
So the Redskins finally take a defensive lineman on the first day of the draft -- and they're moving him to linebacker? It doesn't make any sense, but then, neither does freaking out over something in early May. (Would you expect anything less?)
|AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez|
|Brian Orakpo notched 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss for the Longhorns last season.|
To Orakpo's credit, he's embracing the role. He played for the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the nation at Texas in Will Muschamp, a man who preaches versatility. I've seen Orakpo drop back in coverage, and he certainly doesn't look lost. But he's about to start lining up over tight ends such as Jason Witten and Kevin Boss -- at times. And he'll have to learn how to play with his hands more at the SAM position.
After conducting somewhere in the neighborhood of 23 interviews and posing for pictures, Orakpo visited with the Beast on Sunday. He was particularly excited about the time he spent with Haynesworth.
"My first reaction to meeting him was, 'Wow, this guy's huge,' said Orakpo. "It's impossible to block him one-on-one. With me and Haynesworth, it's going to be a great defensive line. We were doing our stunts together, and I think we'll have a lot in store for people."
It sounds as if Orakpo still thinks his primary position will be defensive end. That's the way he's listed on the team's roster right now. He said it was a "different feeling" lining up at linebacker throughout last weekend's minicamp.
"The good thing is it's a feeling I can be comfortable with," said Orakpo. "I'm not going to have a set position, so I'll be able to use my versatility as sort of a hybrid player. The biggest adjustment is all the different routes you're going to see. You don't want to look like you're a defensive end when you're covering guys. At defensive end, all we know is to get in a stance and rush the quarterback. At linebacker, you have to play the run and pass at the same time."
Precisely the point that I attempted to make earlier in this column. The good thing for the Redskins is that Orakpo's a self-starter. He has maxed out on the bench press at 515 pounds and Texas strength and conditioning coach Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden used to chase him out of the weight room. In college, he took it upon himself to study pass-rushers such as Osi Umenyiora, Jason Taylor and DeMarcus Ware. He also won't have a steep learning curve when it comes to hating the Dallas Cowboys. Orakpo grew up a huge Oilers fan in Houston and still has a "Luv ya blue" jacket somewhere in his boyhood home.
"Dallas and Houston have always competed to see who has the best city," he said. "So I've never enjoyed the Cowboys."
Orakpo played against some of the best offensive tackles in the nation during his time in the Big 12, but there's one that he never faced. Former Baylor left tackle Jason Smith missed the 2007 Texas game with an injury and Orakpo had the same thing happen to him in '08. Smith went No. 2 overall to the St. Louis Rams, who will play the Redskins in Week 2.
"He was a tight end when we were starting our careers," said Orakpo. "And I've been waiting to square off for a long time. I definitely have that date circled on my calendar."
Smith told me recently that Orakpo was "hands-down the best defensive end in the country." But in the Redskins' scheme, it might be a part-time matchup. And in my mind, that would be a real shame.
The Redskins just lucked into perhaps the best pass-rusher in the draft. I, for one, would like to see what that looks like.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
- Jean-Jacques Taylor of DallasNews.com says a Jay Cutler-for-Tony Romo swap makes zero sense.
- Cornerback Orlando Scandrick was rewarded for outperforming his contract.
- Jen Engel of the Star-Telegram says it's time to put the Newman-Romo controversy behind us.
- Here's Les Bowen on the Cutler-to-Philly angle.
- And L.J. Smith has left the building -- as was first reported by AFC North blogger James Walker.
- Anyone interested in the Eagles' draft party?
- Someone in New York thinks the Giants dropped the ball on T.O.
- Steve Spagnuolo has snared another ex-Giant in Dahl.
- In case you missed it on the NFL page, the Giants are "On the Clock."
Final Indianapolis 28 Cincinnati 42 Final Atlanta 21 Green Bay 22 Final Cleveland 26 New England 27 Final Oakland 27 New York 37 Final Detroit 20 Philadelphia 34 Final Miami 34 Pittsburgh 28 Final Buffalo 6 Tampa Bay 27 Final Kansas City 45 Washington 10 Final Minnesota 26 Baltimore 29 Final Tennessee 28 Denver 51 Final St. Louis 10 Arizona 30 Final New York 14 San Diego 37 Final Seattle 17 San Francisco 19 Final Carolina 13 New Orleans 31