|The Skins expect Haynesworth to consume space and free up others to make plays.
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
Devin Thomas, Wide receiver: Change is coming for a receiving corps that tied for 28th in the NFL
in receptions of 20 or more yards. Namely, the Redskins want one of their two
second-round receivers from 2008, Thomas or Malcolm Kelly, to step into the
flanker role, which would allow 5' 10" Antwaan Randle El to slide into the
slot position, where he could be a matchup nightmare. Of the two, Thomas has
made the bigger strides toward emerging from the doghouse in which both players
found themselves as rookies.
The trouble began last August when the pair failed the team's
physical-conditioning test. Each missed time with a hamstring injury in camp,
and Kelly suffered a knee injury and has since had two surgeries. The healthier
Thomas suited up for 16 games (to Kelly's five) and began to click around
midseason, when he had three-catch games against the tough secondaries of
Pittsburgh, Dallas and Baltimore.
The experience gave Thomas a better understanding of the Skins' West Coast
attack, and Zorn says that as his route-running has sharpened, he has been more
able to put his physical assets -- notably long arms and sprinter's speed -- to use.
"Devin is clearly able to concentrate a little more on beating his defender
rather than on remembering what his route is," Zorn says. The job is Thomas's
for the taking.
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
An already stout defense got a whole lot better in the off-season -- but is that where the help was needed most?
Phillip Daniels is eyeballing a swarm of buzzing wannabe general
managers behind the ropes at Redskins camp in Ashburn, Va., shouting out
suggestions for moves the team might make, when the 6' 5", 305-pound
defensive end takes the opportunity to do a little personnel assessment himself.
"If I'm an outsider, I'd look at what this team did [in the off-season] and call
it an A-plus job," he says with a grin. "You just watch."
A curious evaluation, perhaps, given that the team invested, on paper,
$174 million in its No. 4-ranked defense yet shelled out peanuts on an
offense that ranked 28th in scoring and 29th in red-zone efficiency. Case in
point: In search of a new right tackle, the Skins signed free agent Mike
Williams (cost: the league minimum $620,000), who last played an NFL down in
Still, Daniels's enthusiasm appears justified. He points to the re-signing of
ball-hawking cornerback DeAngelo Hall and the drafting of Texas defensive
playmaker Brian Orakpo with the No. 13 pick in April. And then Daniels's
typically quiet eyes absolutely bug out as he gets to the newcomer who's
expected to make the biggest difference: Albert Haynesworth.
Signed on Day One of free agency for seven years at $100 million,
including $41 million in guaranteed money, the former Titans tackle comes
off a career year in which he had 8 1/2 sacks and 51 tackles -- fantastic
numbers for an interior lineman. More important, Haynesworth made the other
players on the Tennessee defense better: The Titans had 44 sacks and tied a
franchise record with 23 forced fumbles last year. His addition should be a boon
to a Skins defense that had only 24 sacks and 18 takeaways, both tied for
28th in the league. "Your defense can be good," Daniels says, "but you can't be
at the top until you get those turnovers. Then you make your whole team better;
you feed your offense. One way or another, Albert's the guy who'll make that
Quarterback Jason Campbell takes the assessment one step further, suggesting
that Haynesworth has already improved the offense: "Going against Albert
and those guys every day of camp has made us so much better."
Haynesworth's impact was immediately evident in camp, especially in
third-down situations during 11-on-11 drills, in which Daniels (fully recovered
from a left ACL injury that cost him all of '08) lined up inside next to
Haynesworth with Orakpo (who'll typically line up at outside 'backer) and
veteran Andre Carter (10 1/2 sacks two years ago) at the ends. On plays in which
Haynesworth faced single blockers or even double teams, he burst into the
backfield to disrupt pass plays or divert rushing attempts. When he drew extra
attention from his right, 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 coach John Palermo's game plan. "We don't know how teams will
work protections yet," he says, "but we'll line those four guys up, and
something's going to happen."
The move is not without risks. Haynesworth, 28, has missed chunks of time to
injury and suspension, and he's being asked to stunt far more than he did in
Tennessee. If he struggles, it won't be the first time a prized defensive free
agent has come to Washington, cashed in and then failed to live up to his
billing. (See: Dana Stubblefield, Mark Carrier, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith,
Jessie Armstead, Jeremiah Trotter, Adam Archuleta, Jason
Taylor. . . .) But Haynesworth isn't letting the pressure get to
him. "Am I going to bring 20 sacks?" he asks. "Hell, no. Most of what I do is
help other people. I get double- and triple-teamed to open it up for other guys.
That's when you start getting sacks, big plays, turnovers from other
Who, exactly? "Well, myself, for one," Daniels says, laughing. "[Albert] gets
the money; I'll take the sacks. In the end it all works out for
-- Adam Duerson