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During his suspension, which began in October 2006, Haynesworth met with Peters for one hour a week at her office. Though bound by doctor-patient privilege not to reveal the content of her sessions, Peters says she tries to provide an environment for people to examine and discuss elements of their lives that they wish to improve. "Certainly, if you watch television or listen to any of the call-in shows, you hear people saying, 'Why did they do that?'" Peters says. "I try to stay away from that so I can be more objective."
Haynesworth says he used the sessions to unburden himself about the daily pressures of being a professional athlete. "It gave me a chance to open up; everybody has problems," says Haynesworth, who acknowledges now that his behavior issues on and off the field were a hindrance to him personally and professionally. "An injury or [the Gurode incident] or whatever—there was always something hindering me from reaching my full potential. You have to adjust. I have a family. I have three young kids who look up to me. You have to present yourself well." (His wife, Stephanie, with whom he has two children, filed for divorce last spring.)
While Peters was working with Haynesworth to sort out his emotions, Chuck Smith, a former Tennessee Volunteer and Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman, invited him to Georgia for some physical conditioning, defensive schooling and friendly counseling. "I saw a guy who was at the crossroads," Smith says. "I sensed fear. He was nervous. I had to give him the professional business, the 'Albert, you did a terrible thing. It was weak of you to step on Gurode's head.' I chastised him like he was a little brother."
Smith also taught him pass-rushing techniques such as head fakes, rip moves, club moves, spins—tactics Haynesworth could use to punish offensive linemen within the rules of the game. "He taught me the art of pass rushing, how to look at hands and be more in control," says Haynesworth. "You can set a guy up and bust a move. It's a game of chess, really, and he'll tell you that."
Says Smith, "Give credit to the player. In a day when we have all these knuckleheads who say they're going to change, say they're going to improve themselves, give him credit. We're all flawed. We all make mistakes. But the key is how you respond."
TO BE sure, Haynesworth has not suddenly become a total angel on the field—nor do his teammates want him to. It's more about keeping his head amid the chaos. "I don't think he's changed his attitude," Hope says. "He just plays to the whistle. Everything is still aggressive, still nasty."
Says Schwartz, "Football is a violent game played by violent people. You have to have that in you to be able to compete on the field. But you also have to be smart enough to know that it's between the lines and between the whistles. He's done a much, much better job in that regard."
Since returning from his suspension, Haynesworth has received mostly accolades—his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections last season, the AFC's defensive player of the month award for September 2008. After being tagged as Tennessee's franchise player this season, Haynesworth is on track to reach playing incentives that will make him an unrestricted free agent and likely the most coveted player on the market in 2009. "Teams that are serious about winning will take him—it's that simple," says one NFL personnel director. "There are select teams that will stay away from him, but if Tank Johnson can get signed by somebody, I'm sure he will too."
"I would like to [stay with the Titans], but that contract stuff will have to work out," says Haynesworth. "If it doesn't, I guess I have to prepare to go elsewhere. This is my first choice, but it's not my only choice."
In the meantime there are offensive linemen to blow past and quarterbacks to chase and running backs to smother. Haynesworth says that at the snap of the ball, he is only thinking about two things: moving fast and working his arms. "It's been getting better and better every year," he says. "At one point the game was in fast-forward. Two or three years later it slowed to play [mode]. Now, it's almost like slow motion. In a couple more years, I'll be like the Matrix."