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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Has the Cold War Ended?

There was an Albert Haynesworth sighting last Sunday in Chicago. And no he wasn't sitting in a luxury suite, driving one of his boats 200 miles per hour, or lounging on the sidelines with a backwards baseball hat, not allowed to practice. Rather, the disgruntled, wealthy, out of favor and rarely utilized defensive tackle was wearing the Burgundy and Gold, and playing--yes playing--football for the Washington Redskins.

In helping the Redskins win their 4th game this season, Haynesworth recorded his first sack of 2010 and impressively stopped the Bears on a critical fourth down play inside the one yard line. Overall, he looked like the dominant, havoc wreaking, game changing player the Redskins guaranted $41 million to in March of 2009. Probably of greater importance to Redskin fans, however, is with Haynesworth's fine performace in Chicago, there finally seems to be a thaw in what was appearing to be an endless cold war between Haynesworth and the team.

Of course, Haynesworth and new Coach Mike Shanahan got off to a pretty rough start. Much to Shanahan's chagrin, Haynesworth blew off many of the team's off-season activities, and complained incessantly about the team's new 3-4 defensive scheme, claiming he had just a year earlier signed on to play a 4-3 defense. Despite Haynesworth's objections, Shanahan was none too pleased with the defensvie tackle's absence and lack of conditioning. When Haynesworth did in fact arrive at Redskin Park for training camp, Shanahan made him go through a bizzare conditioning test that he failed repeatedly.

Despite a few reported instances of improved relations, such as Shanahan and Haynesworth sharing a few cocktails on evening at Shanahan's home, the friction between the two parties only worsened, continuing well into the season. Haynesworth had difficulty adjusting to the 3-4, and even once moronically compared his employement with the Redskins to slavery. All the while, the somewhat chilly, no-nonsense Shanahan held firm that the defensive tackle needed to shut his mouth, get in shape, and get in line.

Things seemed to bottom out in week 6, with the Indianpolis Colts and Peyton Manning in town for a prime time game. A healthy Haynesworth was inexplicably inactive and seen sitting in a luxury suite, as the team lost a close game to the high octane Colts. Certainly, many theorized, the talented Haynesworth could have helped the team get pressure on Manning. Why was he inactive? Had Shanahan taken his Haynesworth grudge too far? Why was the Haynesworth matter still unresolved six weeks into the season? Further, whichever side one was on, Redskin nation had grown tired of the whole charade, particularly as there was seemingly no resolution in sight.

After the Colts game, with Haynesworth seemingly buried deeper in the doghouse than ever, and the trade deadline imminent, many believed the team should deal the disgruntled tackle. I wrote then, and before, that moving a potentially game changing talent like Haynesworth for a mid to late round draft pick was senseless. For one, the draft pick is by no means certain to even make the roster, and secondly many of the teams that were reportedly interested, such as Tennessee, would be facing the Skins down the road. It would be silly to cast aside a talent like Haynesworth to potentially bolster your opponent for little in return. Sadly, I wrote, the Redskins best move was to try to make the less than ideal Haynesworth situation work.

And to their credit, the Redskins and Haynesworth, seem to have found common ground. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett noted that playing Haynesworth in a 3-4 scheme was jamming "a square peg in a round whole," somewhat admitting the team took the wrong approach earlier in the season. Haynesowrth, for his part, noted that he was happy the team found a role that suited him better, by playing him in certain advantageous situations, where the team can utilize his aggressiveness.

Overall, Redskin fans should be happy if this is in fact, the case. Less than two weeks ago, Shanahan seemed more committed than ever to perpetuating what was becoming an endless battle of wills. Nevertheless, it appears he and Haslett have found middle ground with the disgruntled defensive tackle, and finding a way Haynesworth's enormous talent can benefit the team.

Whether this new era of good feelings between the grouchy Haynesworth and the stoic, at times unfriendly Shanahan continues, remains to be seen. The NFL is a very fickle business, and just as the two did an about face in one short week, they could easily do another soon.

Still, if this past week was any indication, there has been a thaw in a cold war that very recently seemed to have no end in sight. For that alone, Redskin fans can at least for now, rejoice.

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