Redskins DT Haynesworth likes playing in nickel, not 3-4 defense

ASHBURN, Va. -- It's unusual to hear a professional athlete say he's not good enough. That's how far Albert Haynesworth has sunk to keep from playing nose tackle in the Washington Redskins' 3-4 defense.

"I'm not good enough to play the 3-4," Haynesworth said Thursday.

The player whose stated goal is to become the greatest defensive lineman in NFL history held his first midweek question-and-answer session this season, and it was hardly a coincidence that it took place after his best game since he signed with the Redskins last year. He had his first sack since 2009 and made a key goal-line stop in Sunday's 17-14 victory over the Chicago Bears.

"Now that we've changed some of the things that I do, it's helped a lot," Haynesworth said. "I don't have to think as much on the field -- I can just go out and play."

Nearing the halfway point of the season, Haynesworth has settled into a role as a part-time player, happy not to be a regular part of the team's "Okie" run packages. He's not the starting nose tackle -- as was envisioned when the Redskins switched to the 3-4 scheme this season -- and instead is playing mostly in nickel packages as a "three-technique" tackle, the role he had during much of his seven seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

"We just kept working at the Okie, and I wasn't coming along to be able to be the starter in that stuff," Haynesworth said. "And I was like, 'Hey, let's focus on the stuff that I know, and you'll see a lot more production out of me."'

It was Haynesworth's aversion to the 3-4 that led to months of offseason drama. The Redskins offered to released him if he didn't take his $21 million contract bonus on April 1, but he accepted the money. He later asked to be traded, skipped offseason practices, needed 10 days to pass a training-camp conditioning test, traded verbal volleys with new coach Mike Shanahan and was well behind in learning the new scheme.

In fact, Haynesworth never caught up. And it doesn't sound as if he wants to.

"We've got a guy in front of me who can play the 3-4 better than I can, so whatever helps the team," Haynesworth said. "I do get to play the nickel, and I play well in that, so that's when you see me in there."

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said there came a point when the defense had to punt.

"Trying to get him to do the 3-4 stuff was trying to get a square peg into a round hole," Haslett said. "We tried to force the issue, and it hasn't worked out the way that we would like. I still think he can do it because he's a good athlete and he is athletic and smart and tough enough to do it."

Haslett estimated he has called the Okie formation 35 percent of the time this season, but that's because the Redskins have played such pass-happy teams as the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts.

"He can do anything he wants to do -- he's just got to want to do it," Haslett said. "It's more of a mindset than anything."

Doesn't he want to be a starter?

"I would like to start and start playing like I used to ... but right now I'm fine with it," he said.

Haynesworth has missed three of seven games this season, including back-to-back games after the death of his half brother. Teammates point out the huge impact he can make if he's playing regularly -- even if it's mostly in the nickel.

"So much has happened the first part of the season," defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday said. "He's gone through an emotional roller-coaster, the tragedy with his family, coming into a bad situation through training camp and so many things. So many distractions, but it seems like now his focus is there, he's had some time to grow in this defense and learn the technique.

"He's just going to continue to grow in this scheme. Who knows? Maybe one day he will like it."

So what does Haynesworth have as his goal for the rest of the season?

"Keep playing and help the teammates, and make plays and I guess get noticed more," he said, "so people will say I'm not a bust or whatever."

Does he think he'll be with the Redskins next season?

"I don't know. I have no clue," he said. "Right now, if I just keep playing, I'm going to be somewhere."

Once the session was done, Haynesworth was asked if he'll speak again next week.

"What is this? Week 8?" he said as he walked away from the podium. "I'll see you at Week 16."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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