Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mike Shanahan's Impact

When Mike Shanahan was hired to be the Washington Redskins’ new head coach in February of this year, he brought about a change to the organization, and it’s aura that we Redskins’ fans had prayed for (even through the second stint of Joe Gibbs). There was change to be made on the field, and change to be made off the field. Much of this change has gone, not unnoticed but unspoken rather. The world surrounding the Redskins has heard solely about rift between Mike Shanahan and Albert Haynesworth (which I will get to here shortly).

Mike Shanahan brought with him Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett. Haslett’s arrival meant the retirement of Greg Blache, and in the same breath, the retirement of the Redskins 4-3 defense. Haslett’s scheme is built around the 3-4, an overly aggressive scheme, which brings about exotic blitzes, coverage, and a violent knack for hitting the ball carrier. Haslett brought with him the passion the defense lacked in their chess-match scheme run under Blache. They now focus on wrapping up, and having a teammate come in and strip at the football to try and force fumbles.

Shanahan also brought with him, son Kyle, from the Houston Texans. Kyle Shanahan ran his father’s offense with some tweaks while he was in Houston, and the team finished 1st overall in passing offense last season. With Mike Shanahan’s mastery of the run-game and his son’s developed understanding of a high-powered passing-offense, the Redskins hope to find success in both categories to hopefully become as powerful as the Colts, Patriots, and Saints.

Shanahan also brought about a new attitude for players, and a no-superstar policy. This meant that the rumored Clinton Portis calling his own practice schedule was no more. There are to be no egos on the team. Nobody is more important than the next man.

Enter the drama of Albert Haynesworth vs. Mike Shanahan. Haynesworth was unhappy due to miscommunication over his role in the defense. He was reportedly told that as a Nose Tackle, he would not be a sack machine; he would eat up blocks to create sacks for the linebackers. Haynesworth requested a trade, which the team was unwilling to give him after paying him his $21 million check that he cashed straight away. Haynesworth held out of OTA’s and mandatory practices while he worked with his personal trainer. He showed up to training camp carrying 30 fewer pounds of bulk to his frame… an obvious showing of moving to the 3-4 DE spot rather than playing Nose Tackle. Haynesworth was not in condition enough to pass tests or stay healthy for 9 days of training camp.

He finally passed the test and earned the right to practice, and found himself working with the second-team defense primarily as nose-tackle. After the first regular-season game, Haynesworth was buying into the scheme, acknowledging that his new role in the defense is exactly what he’s wanted to do in the scheme. Then came an illness that the team described as “just a headache” which caused him to miss most of the week’s practice. Haynesworth would go on to play in the second preseason game again with the backup defense in the third quarter, and after the game criticized the team for downplaying his illness, and questioning his role declaring he was better than backup in a preseason game.

After a silent meeting with Mike Shanahan and team leaders, Haynesworth appeared to be buying in again. He practiced well all week, and played in Friday night’s game against the New York Jets. He spent the bulk of his snaps at DE with the first team, and while he made a few mistakes, he played with intensity that he’s lacked with the team in the past. After the game, Haynesworth was quoted as saying:

“I'm going over for dinner to his house, probably tonight, we'll sit, have a cigar and talk. What I said last week is behind me. I don't even remember what I said.”  ... “That's what they wanted to do this week, so I practiced a lot at end to get a feel for it; I still got a lot of work to do.”

It sounds like Haynesworth is trying to make up with Mike Shanahan. It’s still unknown what was said in their meeting last weekend, but both insist they’re on common ground. Even if things are bad, keeping it in-house between the two of them definitely keeps everything easy on the team, and nobody can deny that Haynesworth appeared happy to be playing with the first-team defense.

What I want to focus on though is, whether or not Shanahan wanted this to go down, he’s genius enough to know he needed it. Not only to prove his point to his team, fans, and Mr. Snyder; but to find himself in a controversial battle which will either end with him cutting or trading Albert Haynesworth or making Albert buy in and stick it out and play up to his potential for the Redskins. It’s a win-win all over for Shanahan, and one has to wonder if he hasn’t played a few cards against his own favor in order to win in the bigger picture. If he is testing his team, Haynesworth, and the fans, he’s as masterful a coach as any, and well on his way to doing great things with and for the Washington Redskins.

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