Despite Head Coach Mike Shanahan holding the most highly attended offseason programs the Redskins have seen in years, all the talk over the last month has been about the highest profile player, who happens to be absent from Redskins Park. Capping off a spring in which the Redskins failed to find a suitor for his services before he accepted a $21 million bonus check, disgruntled defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth made news by requesting a trade before the team’s final mandatory mini-camp, which ran on June 16th and 17th (his 29th birthday).
Haynesworth has taken issue with the fact that he feels a scheme change will force him to take on more blockers, leaving him less time to disrupt the passer and make plays. It had been made public knowledge that he will be allowed to play both end spots as well as nose tackle if he chose to play in the newly implemented system.
A situation like this is certainly a first for Andre Carter, who has had to make a big transition himself, converting from defensive end to linebacker for the second time in his career.
“I haven't experienced a player prioritizing his position on the field over working with the game. It's disappointing because Albert could fit in this scheme. All we can say is we wish him the best and we will see what happens in a month. He made his statement that he didn't want to play in this scheme and we are not going to force him to play. He's a grown man. We have moved forward,” Carter said.
In a statement made last week, Haynesworth said that he will report to training camp on time when the first of 15 public practices begin on July 29th. Considering he made the same proclamation regarding June’s mandatory mini-camps, his recent remarks might want to be taken with a grain of salt. If he does in fact show up, he has a lot of catching up to do, not only with the playbook but with his teammates as well.
“I can't really speak on [behalf of] Albert. We have moved on as a team. If he shows up he has to prove to us he is back for the organization and not all about him,” Carter said.
“He would have to leave the BS at the door,” Carter said. “Negativity around positive and optimistic people won't work. He will need to work hard and prove himself by showing that he's trustworthy and reliable in the scheme and as a teammate.”
Fans, however, may be less forgiving if he decides to show his face to the burgundy and gold faithful who will be standing for hours on end in the summer heat at Redskins Park to see the team practice.
“I can't really say how they should react. All I know is I have met random fans and they are PO'd about Big Al so I wouldn't be shocked if they took those emotions to our open practices,” Carter said.
Haynesworth is not the only player asked to alter his role due to the new defense that is being put in place. Including Carter, four defensive linemen have been asked to move to linebacker. Lorenzo Alexander, Jeremy Jarmon and Rob Jackson are the others. Linebacker Darrel Young was asked to change sides completely, converting to a running back to compete in an already crowded backfield consisting of three former Pro Bowlers.
Whether those players enjoy the switches or not, no displeasure has been made public and work continues to get done on their end, building camaraderie that can’t be created on an individual basis.
With Haynesworth working on his own, he gives up the opportunity to build a certain muscle memory associated with the scheme and will also struggle to gain a sense of how everyone around him will operate and adapt to each other when a play is going on.
“The chemistry is always a starting point first and foremost. However, he needed to be here to learn the scheme. There is a lot of communication involved which requires many repetitions in plays. That's how you develop trust in each other. So he's missing out on everything,” Carter said.
Carter feels that his transition to the Redskins’ new defense as a linebacker will be much easier than what he adjusted to while making the switch to the 3-4 in San Francisco for the 2005 season.
“This scheme will suit not only my skills but our defense in general. The scheme I played in [in 2005] [involved] a lot of reading. I hated playing Cover 2 in that defense. [It required] a lot of jamming and getting into a certain spot of the hashes. It wasn't for me. This scheme [centers around] a lot of change-ups in blitzing, coverages which [are] more complex and a variety of matchups on the tight end,” Carter said.
“This scheme is designed for the linebackers. The big guys eat up the middle and the linebackers go hunting. This scheme is very unique because you don't know who's coming or dropping. When played on a high level it can be very deceptive and very disruptive. However, it's vital that everyone is on the same page.”
Carter, unlike Haynesworth, attended voluntary and mandatory OTA’s and mini-camps despite spending a tough offseason rehabbing a torn right biceps tendon and dealing with being the subject of rogue trade rumors.
“It was an emotional offseason,” Carter said.
“This is a tough business and like anything you have to develop some tough skin. As for the trade rumors, it was discussed but nothing happened. As you can see, I am still a Redskin. The surgery for my bicep tendon was a success and the rehab went well,” Carter said.
“Rehab is [going] great. I slowly started working back into the swing of things during the mini camp and OTA's. I wasn't rushed into coming back because we didn't want any setbacks. I would say I am 100%.”
Adjusting to the new scheme was a bit of a challenge for Carter from a physical standpoint but he attempted to make up for it with extra mental reps.
“My mental game was up to par, however the physical part was a little bit of a different story. Getting a feel of the scheme and reps was missed but I wasn't too far behind. I constantly asked questions and did extra work before and after practice,” Carter said.
Speaking of injuries, the Redskins have had a knack for acquiring former Pro Bowlers with a recent injury history, especially at running back. With former Pittsburgh Steelers star Willie Parker and former Kansas City Chiefs playmaker Larry Johnson already in the fold to spell Clinton Portis, the team is still openly interested in signing former Philadelphia Eagles all-purpose back Brian Westbrook despite his well-documented concussion recurrences and knee problems.
If any two coaches can make a backfield with this combination of players work, it will be Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner, who annually made believers out of fans that overlooked whoever started or filled in for Denver’s backfield over the last 15 seasons.
“A changeup is good with the variety of backs we have. A rotation is necessary in order to keep each man fresh and defenses hate that because they don't know what to expect,” Carter said.
The latest player that fits the bill of former Pro Bowler with an injury history is former New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Jammal Brown, who missed all but the first three games of the 2009 season following sports hernia and hip surgery. Brown, when healthy, is an instant bookend tackle on any offensive line and has already appeared in two Pro Bowls in the five seasons he has played. He was acquired for either a third or fourth round pick in 2011, which is contingent upon the Donovan McNabb trade made in April.
“It's a great boost for us. Depth is always keen, especially at o-line. We are happy to have him on board,” Carter said.
The mixed bag of new faces, whether rookies or veterans, shall provide a refreshing sense of competition at every position on the roster during training camp. “Camp Shanahan” will bring a different feel to the team compared to what has been experienced over the last several years.
“His philosophy is ‘we are one.’ No matter how big or small of a player, by name or contract, we are all expendable. He knows what it takes to create a championship team and it started since day one. We believe in him and take him seriously to what he expects from us,” Carter said.