Commentary

Patriots move mountains in middle

Albert Haynesworth shows enormous potential of lining up beside Vince Wilfork

Updated: August 1, 2011, 11:43 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There were no reported earthquakes near Gillette Stadium on Sunday, but those present for the New England Patriots' full-pad practice might have been convinced they felt tremors. The earth seemed to move right around the time that 6-foot-5, 330-pound Albert Haynesworth lined up next to 6-foot-2, 325-pound Vince Wilfork.

[+] EnlargeAlbert Haynesworth
AP Photo/Michael DwyerAlbert Haynesworth has practiced this week and could get his first game action with the Patriots on Saturday.

Both were defensive tackles in a four-man line, and the power and explosiveness tilted the playing field. On display for parts of the team's practice, the results were impressive.

Haynesworth looked like a man among boys. While it should be noted that he was going up against backup linemen most of the time, he was disruptive to the point that the crowd picked up on it right away, cheering his work. The power and suddenness of his movements seemed to catch the blockers in front of him by surprise.

On his first contact play, in a half-line running drill, Haynesworth exploded off the line and broke into the backfield. He did it again later in 11-on-11 work, which had linebacker Brandon Spikes tapping his helmet in excitement, almost as if to say "Welcome to New England!" Haynesworth was cut down on a double-team shortly after that, and didn't do much during the second half of practice, likely as a health precaution.

If Haynesworth is motivated and combines with the regularly excellent work of Wilfork, the Patriots potentially have a 1-2 punch that looks like the foundation for a philosophical defensive shift to more traditional four-man line play. This is the change that former Patriots defensive lineman Ty Warren saw in meeting rooms and on the field over the last week.

Much like a baseball team being strong up the middle, the Patriots would have two of their best lining up close to the football, playing various techniques. And when a team has that, it can be a brick-wall imposing presence, like the Minnesota Vikings have with Pat Williams and Kevin Williams.

One can go even further back, to the Pat Williams-Sam Adams combination in Buffalo in 2003-04, for an example of what two high-level defensive tackles can mean to a defense.The Bills ranked second in the NFL in fewest yards allowed those years, mainly because Williams and Adams weren't easily moved. It made little sense to try to run up the middle on them.

Current Bills radio play-by-play man Mark Kelso remembers how Buffalo had a top-five defense at the time, and he sees the Patriots heading down the same road.

"You imagine those two playing together and it's unbelievable. You're looking at a situation where you probably have to double-team both of those guys," Kelso said. "So you can play a four-man front but they could be controlling as many as six guys. That's going to free up those linebackers, who must be loving it.

"To me, it's the ultimate weapon defensively because you don't have to bring extra pressure to get pressure. They're going to be able to do a lot defensively because of that."

[+] EnlargePat Williams, Sam Adams
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesPat Williams and Sam Adams, a pair reminiscent of Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth, helped make the Bills a top-five defense.

Sunday provided a small glimpse of how Haynesworth's presence could make such a difference. He was the story of the day, passing his conditioning test in the morning, joining his teammates for a morning walkthrough, then returning for the afternoon full-pad session in which the crowd cheered his arrival. Haynesworth waved his hand to acknowledge the fans.

Haynesworth then went through jogging and stretching drills, worked on technique on the blocking sled, and had some trouble getting used to his new helmet. When it was time for his first contact, he dominated backup lineman Rich Ohrnberger in the half-line running drill.

After ripping through the line during an 11-on-11 drill to once again disrupt the play, the crowd started chanting his name and Haynesworth waved once again. Haynesworth got doubled and cut down the next time, landing on the ground with a thud, and he didn't participate much after that.

It wasn't quite the same beginning as Randy Moss in 2007, who absolutely dazzled in an aerial show with Tom Brady that electrified the crowd in an unforgettable practice, but it was in the same category. Haynesworth's work was a bit more limited, although it was appreciated by those in attendance just the same.

From an individual standpoint, Sunday was all about Haynesworth and his first practice with his new team. From a team standpoint, it was about how his pairing with Wilfork at defensive tackle could reshape the Patriots' defense.

It looks like explosive stuff.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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