PHILLIP DANIELSis eyeballing a swarm of buzzing wannabe general managers behind the ropes atRedskins camp in Ashburn, Va., shouting out suggestions for moves the teammight make, when the 6'5", 305-pound defensive end takes the opportunity todo a little personnel assessment himself. "If I'm an outsider, I'd look atwhat this team did [in the off-season] and call it an A-plus job," he sayswith a grin. "You just watch."
A curiousevaluation, perhaps, given that the team invested, on paper, $174 million inits No. 4--ranked defense yet shelled out peanuts on an offense that ranked28th in scoring and 29th in red-zone efficiency. Case in point: In search of anew right tackle, the Skins signed free agent Mike Williams (cost: the leagueminimum $620,000), who last played an NFL down in '05.
Still, Daniels'senthusiasm appears justified. He points to the re-signing of ball-hawkingcornerback DeAngelo Hall and the drafting of Texas defensive playmaker BrianOrakpo with the No. 13 pick in April. And then Daniels's typically quiet eyesabsolutely bug out as he gets to the newcomer who's expected to make thebiggest difference: Albert Haynesworth.
Signed on Day Oneof free agency for seven years at $100 million, including $41 million inguaranteed money, the former Titans tackle comes off a career year in which hehad 8½ sacks and 51 tackles—fantastic numbers for an interior lineman. Moreimportant, Haynesworth made the other players on the Tennessee defense better:The Titans had 44 sacks and tied a franchise record with 23 forced fumbles lastyear. His addition should be a boon to a Skins defense that had only 24 sacksand 18 takeaways, both tied for 28th in the league. "Your defense can begood," Daniels says, "but you can't be at the top until you get thoseturnovers. Then you make your whole team better; you feed your offense. One wayor another, Albert's the guy who'll make that happen."
September 6, 2009
Quarterback JasonCampbell takes the assessment one step further, suggesting that Haynesworth hasalready improved the offense: "Going against Albert and those guys everyday of camp has made us so much better."
Haynesworth'simpact was immediately evident in camp, especially in third-down situationsduring 11-on-11 drills, in which Daniels (fully recovered from a left ACLinjury that cost him all of '08) lined up inside next to Haynesworth withOrakpo (who'll typically line up at outside 'backer) and veteran Andre Carter(10½ sacks two years ago) at the ends. On plays in which Haynesworth facedsingle blockers or even double teams, he burst into the backfield to disruptpass plays or divert rushing attempts. When he drew extra attention from hisright, Orakpo feasted on the free space. And when help came from the left,Daniels and Carter wreaked havoc. That pretty much sums up defensive line coachJohn Palermo's game plan. "We don't know how teams will work protectionsyet," he says, "but we'll line those four guys up, and something'sgoing to happen."
The move is notwithout risks. Haynesworth, 28, has missed chunks of time to injury andsuspension, and he's being asked to stunt far more than he did in Tennessee. Ifhe struggles, it won't be the first time a prized defensive free agent has cometo Washington, cashed in and then failed to live up to his billing. (See: DanaStubblefield, Mark Carrier, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jessie Armstead,Jeremiah Trotter, Adam Archuleta, Jason Taylor....) But Haynesworth isn'tletting the pressure get to him. "Am I going to bring 20 sacks?" heasks. "Hell, no. Most of what I do is help other people. I get double- andtriple-teamed to open it up for other guys. That's when you start gettingsacks, big plays, turnovers from other players."
Who, exactly?"Well, myself, for one," Daniels says, laughing. "[Albert] gets themoney; I'll take the sacks. In the end it all works out for everyone."
WITH 2008 STATISTICS
8--8 in NFL, second season with Redskins
Third-down backLadell Betts (61 att., 206 yards; 22 rec., 200 yards; 1 TTD) spells Porter.
Haynesworth'sarrival sends DT Kedric Golston (28 tackles, 2 sacks in 13 starts) to a backuprole.
(R) Rookie:College statistics
TTD: Total touchdowns
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2008 RECORD 8--8
NFL RANK (Rush > Pass > Total)
OFFENSE 8 > 23 > 19
DEFENSE 8 > 7 > 4
13 at N.Y. Giants
20 ST. LOUIS
27 at Detroit
4 TAMPA BAY
11 at Carolina
18 KANSAS CITY
26 PHILADELPHIA (M)
8 at Atlanta
22 at Dallas
29 at Philadelphia
6 NEW ORLEANS
13 at Oakland
21 N.Y. GIANTS (M)
3 at San Diego
NFL Rank: 16
Opponents' 2008 winning percentage: .492
Games against playoff teams: 7
The Redskins must knock off the early cupcakes to keepthe heat off coach Jim Zorn; first-half foes St. Louis, K.C. and Detroit hadfour wins, total, last year, though one was the Rams' upset in Washington. TheSkins also need to enter November above .500, as the slate gets rough after thebye week with back-to-back trips to Dallas and Philly and two West Coastflights in December.
Devin Thomas, Wide receiver
CHANGE IS coming for a receiving corps that tied for28th in the NFL in receptions of 20 or more yards. Namely, the Redskins wantone of their two second-round receivers from 2008, Thomas or Malcolm Kelly, tostep into the flanker role, which would allow 5'?10" Antwaan Randle El toslide into the slot position, where he could be a matchup nightmare. Of thetwo, Thomas has made the bigger strides toward emerging from the doghouse inwhich both players found themselves as rookies.
The trouble began last August when the pair failed theteam's physical-conditioning test. Each missed time with a hamstring injury incamp, and Kelly suffered a knee injury and has since had two surgeries. Thehealthier Thomas suited up for 16 games (to Kelly's five) and began to clickaround midseason, when he had three-catch games against the tough secondariesof Pittsburgh, Dallas and Baltimore.
The experience gave Thomas a better understanding ofthe Skins' West Coast attack, and Zorn says that as his route-running hassharpened, he has been more able to put his physical assets—notably long armsand sprinter's speed—to use. "Devin is clearly able to concentrate a littlemore on beating his defender rather than on remembering what his route is,"Zorn says. The job is Thomas's for the taking.