Postcard from camp: Redskins
The fuss over Albert Haynesworth not passing his conditioning test will pass soon
A key factor will be how well the Redskins turn themselves into a 3-4 defense
The club hasn't closed the door on signing two-time Pro Bowler Brian Westbrook
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Don Banks had to say about the Redskins camp in Ashburn, Va. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
Nothing much going on here at sleepy Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va., where the team will stay at home to conduct training camp for the eighth year in a row. I mean other than the ballyhooed start of the Mike Shanahan coaching era, the celebrated arrival of quarterback/savior Donovan McNabb, the continuation of the Albert Haynesworth saga, the transformation to a 3-4 defense under former Saints/Rams head coach turned D-coordinator Jim Haslett, the wholesale rebuilding of an offensive line, and the start of a veteran-laden running back competition that features Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, Willie Parker and maybe, eventually, Brian Westbrook.
That's all. What ever will all of us media types find to opine about in Washington this season?
1. All the fuss over Haynesworth not passing his conditioning test on Thursday morning is a story likely to fade soon. The Redskins $100-million defensive tackle couldn't pass both legs of his running drills -- there's one for endurance and another one that features short shuttles -- and thus wasn't allowed to practice with the team when it held its first workout of camp late Thursday afternoon.
But Redskins head coach Shanahan said Haynesworth will be allowed to re-take the test every day until he passes it, and wouldn't offer a prediction on how close Haynesworth came and when he might clear this particular hurdle.
"Obviously you'd like him to be in the type of shape most of our players are in, but the bottom line is we're going to get him in shape,'' Shanahan said after his team's 75-minute practice. "Hopefully he'll get it done tomorrow. But it may take two or three days. It may take a week, I really don't know. His weight is fine. We just have got to get his cardio at a certain level to make sure he doesn't injure himself.''
During most of practice Haynesworth was inside the team's weight room on the treadmill, but he did spend 20-30 minutes outside working on his techniques with defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and defensive line coach Jacob Burney. Haynesworth has reportedly shed 35 to 40 pounds in recent weeks, and from what I saw he looks noticeably leaner than he has been in recent NFL seasons. Meaning this shouldn't take long. His conditioning-test drama looks to me like at most a three-day story.
2. It's all well and good that Haynesworth apparently has decided to get with the program in Washington, but I don't think for a minute that it represents a significant change of heart on the part of the malcontent $100 million defensive tackle. In time I believe he'll grow to like Washington's new 3-4 defensive formation and his role in it, be it at nose tackle or defensive end.
But Haynesworth showing up for work Thursday on time and having dropped his malcontent act represents nothing more than him being able to read the writing on the wall. Washington wasn't getting anything serious in the way of trade offers for him, and his leverage was almost non-existent. If he wanted to keep all $21 million that Washington gave him in April, without the club trying to claw some of it back for being in violation of his contract, it was time to put a semi-smile on his face and don some shoulder pads. It's called making the best of it, and for that kind of jack, it shouldn't be too difficult.
"What leverage?'' Redskins new defensive coordinator Haslett asked, when one local reporter posed a question about Haynesworth using his leverage this offseason. "I don't think he had any leverage at all. Once he took the money, he had to either play for the team or sit.''
That always was the reality of the situation. Big Albert might figure out that his job in the Redskins defense isn't as bad as he feared, but for now he's playing the good soldier because it pays very, very well. They're called mercenaries.
3. While the Donovan McNabb and Haynesworth stories have dominated the offseason headlines in D.C., how quickly and how well the Redskins can transform themselves into a 3-4 defense might wind up being the pivotal factor in how the 2010 season turns out. It's early, but here's my reading of what the Redskins hope their front seven looks like when Washington plays host to Dallas on Sunday Night Football in Week 1:
Ex-Rams first-round pick Adam Carriker at left end, ex-Panthers nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu at nose tackle, and Haynesworth at right end. The four-man linebacker contingent should have London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh inside, with 2009 rookie sensation Brian Orakpo on the strong side, and fourth-year veteran Lorenzo Alexander on the weakside. What about 10th-year veteran Andre Carter, the former end who's trying to make the transition to weakside linebacker? Alexander has the inside track on the job, and Carter could be this year's version of Aaron Kampman, a natural 4-3 end who struggles making the transition to stand up and play in space.
Thanks to Haynesworth, people barely noticed that some new guy was at quarterback for Washington on Thursday. Name's McNabb, and he was wearing No. 5. I didn't think it was a particularly sharp first day for the Redskins latest starting quarterback, but I'm told by observers that he has already proven he can make throws that Jason Campbell never dreamed of in the past.
The tempo and intensity of the Redskins offense Thursday was higher than its execution level, but it was only a 75-minute workout, without full pads, on a field that had been twice drenched by thunderstorms in the preceding two hours. The enthusiasm is definitely sky-high on offense, and McNabb is in the center of all that.
"This team's attitude is a lot different, from what I understand, than what it has been in the past,'' McNabb said. "There's a focus on the new energy here.''
That was definitely the idea when the Redskins landed the former Eagles star on Easter Sunday night.
Washington's first-round pick, Oklahoma offensive tackle Trent Williams, remained unsigned as of Thursday evening and thus is already a bit behind. The draft's No. 4 pick really can't afford to miss too many days of camp and still be expected to earn and hold down the starting left tackle slot. Playing that critical slot as a rookie is a difficult transition to make under the best of conditions, and Williams being able to handle it is the key to the success of Washington's entire makeover to a zone-blocking scheme at offensive line.
Williams was said to look a little lost in minicamp, but some of the lights have reportedly gone on in the weeks since then. The two sides aren't thought to be far apart and I expect Williams to be here fairly quickly, because there's too much at stake for the Redskins and him to quibble for long. Washington had second-year reserve William Robinson at the left tackle slot in practice Thursday, and suffice to say that's not what it had in mind for 2010.
Sorry to repeat my tweet, but I found it amusing when McNabb came out of the Redskins locker room bound for his first camp practice with a guy named Westbrook at his right shoulder. Just like old times in Philly. Only this time, it was Byron Westbrook, the Redskins second-year cornerback and the younger brother of ex-Eagles running back Brian Westbrook.
I asked McNabb if it was an intentional move on his part, and he just laughed said: "He (Westbrook) paid me to walk out there beside me.''
1. Speaking of Brian Westbrook, Shanahan said Wednesday the club hasn't closed the door on signing the two-time Pro Bowl pick and adding him to the crowded mix at running back. But how do you begin to get everyone enough work in the preseason to sort out that position's depth chart? There's Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, and Willie Parker, plus two young backs in Ryan Torain and Keiland Williams.
When the smoke clears in early September, I'd put my money on Portis, Johnson and Torain (an ex-Bronco fifth-rounder under Shanahan in 2008) being the roster survivors. I'm not sure Parker has much left, and Westbrook's age and concussion issues obviously are significantly impacting his marketability. From what I saw of Johnson on Thursday, he looks fit, ready and very determined.
2. Shanahan got several questions fired at him Wednesday about when the team plans to talk contract extension with McNabb, who's in the final year of his deal. The Redskins continue to say they expect McNabb to be here a while and it's their intention to extend him, but what's the rush? Why not see how the first half of the season goes and whether or not McNabb's winning ways made the move south from Philadelphia before jumping into a long-term commitment with him? He'll be 34 in late November, and this is his 12th NFL season, so time isn't really in his favor at this point.
3. Spent a little time talking to new Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, son of you-know-who, at Wednesday's media luncheon with the Washington coaching staff. He revealed the following in-house Redskins secret: He still slips up at times and calls Mike Shanahan "Dad.'' In the office. In front of his fellow coaches. What a grievous, grievous faux pas. Kyle said most of the time he just calls the boss "Coach,'' adding that it would be way too awkward to go with "Mike.''
4. Haslett will be watching as closely as anyone when new Redskins offensive right tackle Jammal Brown and Carriker, the team's new defensive left end, go at it in practice for the first time in live contact on Friday morning. Haslett is a big part of the reason both of them are on the roster. He was the Saints head coach in 2005 when Brown was drafted 13th overall by New Orleans out of Oklahoma, and he was the Rams defensive coordinator in 2007 when Carriker, the ex-Nebraska Cornhusker, was drafted 13th overall by St. Louis.
"My first-round picks are going to be beating each other up starting Friday,'' Haslett said. "Adam versus Jammal.''
5. Haven't seen the numbers crunched league-wide, but Washington has to have the oldest roster in the NFL heading into training camp. No fewer than 11 Redskins have at least 10 years of experience in the league, led by 16th-year receiver Joey Galloway, 15th-year defensive lineman Phillip Daniels, 13th-year inside linebacker London Fletcher and 13th-year defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday. There was no youth movement in D.C. this offseason, because the Skins added Galloway, Holliday, McNabb (12th year), and linebacker Chris Draft (12th year) to a roster that already was showing some signs of age.
6. Not sure who reported there were "words'' between Haynesworth and Shanahan after Haynesworth failed his conditioning test on Thursday, but the Redskins coach minced no words refuting it.
"There were no words,'' Shanahan said. "Albert was first class all the way, and understood where I was coming from. He understands he's got to be at a certain level to go out on the field and practice with the rest of our football team. And if he gets there, he'll be with us. If he doesn't, then he won't.''
7. Maybe it's just me, but it really doesn't seem like a Redskins training camp without Vinny Cerrato around.