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Friday, July 30, 2010
Shanahan shows he's in total control

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

ASHBURN, Va. -- Albert Haynesworth failed more than a conditioning test Thursday. He lost a test of wills against new Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, which shouldn't surprise anyone. After an offseason in which Haynesworth challenged his new boss by taking a $21 million bonus and refusing to accept a move to a 3-4 defense, Shanahan was going to show him up.

The conditioning test was a statement by Shanahan to Haynesworth and the team that he is the boss. Despite reporting to camp at a trim 330 pounds after losing roughly 20 pounds, Haynesworth couldn't do two sets of 300-yard gassers (he failed another test Friday). Cornerback DeAngelo Hall and other Redskins veterans admitted they might not have passed a similar test without having weeks of notice.

Shanahan is conditioning Haynesworth to a new regime. Once he passes the test, Haynesworth will have to go kicking and screaming to the 3-4. Haynesworth may be the $100 million Redskin, but his job is dependent on the health of Maake Kemoeatu, who is coming off an Achilles tendon tear. The more Kemoeatu plays, the more Haynesworth will be free to play defensive end. Shanahan has conditioned Haynesworth's mind to the reality that he serves at the pleasure of the coach.

Here are three key observations from Redskins camp:

1. McNabb's a great fit: As great as Donovan McNabb was as Andy Reid's quarterback since 1999, he actually might be a better fit in Shanahan's offense. Reid runs a pure West Coast offense based on timing and precision. McNabb mastered the offense by forcing himself to throw out of disciplined three-step drops. Shanahan has taken his version of the West Coast offense in a different direction since his days as 49ers offensive coordinator. Pressed to describe the differences between the two styles, McNabb couldn't label the Redskins' offense purely West Coast. The new Redskins system fits McNabb because of his athleticism. It's more five- and seven-step drops. It's more play-action because Shanahan makes more of a commitment to run the ball. Wide receiver Santana Moss loves the fit of McNabb in the system because the quarterback always has been able to buy time with his feet. Shanahan loves how accurately McNabb is throwing the ball. Remember, Shanahan has won with Brian Griese and Jake Plummer. McNabb might not be John Elway, but his arm is still strong and he has shown great leadership. Instead of being a throwing machine, McNabb can thrive as a playmaker for the Redskins.

2. Are the receivers good enough? The biggest question mark about the Redskins is whether they are good enough at the receiver position. The answer is in the tight ends. Their best passing formations probably will be two tight-end sets. Chris Cooley has established himself as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFC. Shanahan sees Fred Davis as another potential star. Running plays out of two-tight end sets also should help the running game because defenses can't figure out which is the strong side of the formation. The Redskins have serious question marks after Moss, who should thrive in Shanahan's offense. Moss may be at his best when allowed to work out of the slot in three-receiver sets, but he's still the team's best outside threat as he enters his 10th season. Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly have to grow into other receiver roles but Shanahan hedged his bets by bringing in veterans Joey Galloway and Bobby Wade. Shanahan wishes he was as deep at wide receiver as he is in the backfield. Clinton Portis has trimmed his weight from 230 to 218 pounds and still has some burst. Shanahan signed Larry Johnson after watching tape of him running well behind a zone-blocking scheme last season. Willie Parker and Ryan Torain will be fighting for playing time, and you figure Shanahan will win out the waiting game and get Brian Westbrook to accept his invitation to be the third-down back.

3. How will the switch to the 3-4 defense work? Normally, I'm skeptical predicting success for teams that switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 because too many of late have failed. In recent years, the Chargers, Packers and Cowboys have made the smoothest transition. The Redskins might head the next group. The reason is the bulk along the three-man line. Haynesworth might have the biggest salary, but Kemoeatu is the key. At 350 pounds, he has to draw double-team blocks to free up the linebackers, and the more he plays, the less Haynesworth will be asked to serve at the nose. Don't underestimate Haynesworth's impact, either. Haynesworth was part of a Redskins defense that gave up only 2.9 yards a carry when he was on the field but 4.0 when he was off it. For ends, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has 310-pound Phillip Daniels and 315-pound Adam Carriker. Backup nose tackle Kedric Golston is 310. Also around are Vonnie Holliday and Jeremy Jarmon. Haslett plans to use the Steelers' aggressive form of the 3-4 with plenty of blitzing and not locking linemen into being two-gap wrestling bears at the line. Brian Orakpo should be a Pro Bowl pass-rusher at linebacker. The surprise is Lorenzo Alexander being ahead of Andre Carter on the strong side. Carter can be the third-down rusher. There are certain lineups in which the Redskins can get more than six former first-rounders on the field.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.