Albert Haynesworth was happy, and not just because Mike Shanahan let him out to play.
Turns out he likes the Redskins’ new 3-4 defense. He really likes it.
“It’s something I’ve got to get used to, but other than that, it’s going to be a good defense,” Haynesworth said. “They allow me to pass rush and everything like that, which is really important to me.”
Who would have thought it? All that fretting, all those missed workouts, and now Haynesworth decides the defense he swore he couldn’t play in seems to be all right after all?
He actually gets to rush the passer? Didn’t someone tell him that was why he was paid a $21 million bonus earlier this year?
More importantly, didn’t Haynesworth ever bother to find out what the new defense was all about before he began pouting about it?
Apparently not, but after just one exhibition game, everything seems to be fine again in Haynesworth land. Sure, he played second string nose tackle, but at least Shanahan didn’t make him run another conditioning test during warmups before allowing him on the field.
Not only that, but Haynesworth seems to have figured out that his responsibility is to play, and Shanahan’s responsibility to run the team.
“He’s the head coach. I’m a player,” Haynesworth said after the Buffalo game. “That’s what it is.”
That’s a switch from last season when even the coach didn’t seem to know who was in charge. Jim Zorn was a nice enough guy and popular with the players, but owner Dan Snyder cut his legs out from underneath him and he was a lame duck who had no authority on either side of the ball.
No one questions the authority of the new coach. Especially not after Shanahan crushed Haynesworth in a test of wills to begin the season by not allowing him to practice for 10 days until he passed his conditioning test.
There’s a new vibe in the nation’s capital, and it was apparent Friday night in the Skins’ 42-17 rout of the Bills. New coach, new quarterback, new discipline, and some new hope for Redskins fans who have suffered ever since Snyder bought the team.
One meaningless exhibition game, yes. But it’s amazing how meaningful the game was for the Redskins, who scored more points than they have in any exhibition game in the last 22 years.
Haynesworth gave a glimpse of how dominant he might be, even in a new defense. The offensive line was solid, and Rex Grossman showed signs of being a decent backup quarterback.
And did I mention Donovan McNabb?
The former Eagles quarterback didn’t play long because, after all, this was just the first preseason game. But McNabb went 4-for-5 on Washington’s second possession, capping a drive and his evening with a touchdown pass that had Redskins fans almost apoplectic with glee.
But while they see a new team, McNabb has been around long enough to know that it’s just the beginning of a long process.
“We don’t want to get too excited yet,” he said.
No, not when the official record is 0-0. Not when a very interesting game against McNabb’s old team is still nearly two months away.
By the time the Skins and Eagles meet Oct. 3 in Philadelphia, fans of both teams will know a lot more about whether their teams are contenders or pretenders. They’ll know whether McNabb is really rejuvenated in new colors, and whether Kevin Kolb or Michael Vick is the future for the Eagles.
Kolb did nothing in his debut Friday night to make the Eagles regret their decision to trade McNabb to their rivals for a measly second round pick in the draft. He was crisp with his passes, made good decisions, and generally looked like he was ready to start helping fans forget the McNabb years.
But Vick showed flashes of his old self, too. And, while there’s no quarterback controversy in Philadelphia right now, there might be one by Oct. 3.
The Redskins were the team in desperate search of a change in momentum, though. And through all of Snyder’s high-priced and bizarre signings, it looks like he may have gotten it right this time around.
He’s got a coach who has won Super Bowls, and a quarterback who has been in one. There’s a chance Haynesworth will become a dominant player instead of an expensive mistake, and Clinton Portis seems healthy once again.
Yes, it’s only one meaningless exhibition game.
But it set the tone for what could be a very meaningful season for the Redskins.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org
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