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Haslett looking to tune up Redskins’ defense

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ASHBURN, Va. | It's been a bit of a novelty watching the Washington Redskins' defense in preseason. The players are getting their hands on the ball — and they're actually holding on to it.

"We have eight turnovers in three games?" linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "That's unheard-of around here, the last couple of years finishing last in turnovers."

Alexander isn't exaggerating much. The Redskins have trailed the entire league in takeaways twice in the last four seasons. They were 32nd in 2006, 25th in '07, tied for 28th in '08 and again at the bottom last year, recovering just six fumbles to go with a mere 11 interceptions.

When Jim Haslett was hired as defensive coordinator, he installed a 3-4 scheme that promised to rectify the problem that has hurt the Redskins immeasurably in recent seasons. If the defense isn't creating turnovers, the offense is seemingly always having to drive some 60, 70 or 80 yards to score a touchdown.

If the Redskins keep up this pace once the real games begin, they would finish the regular season with 42 or so takeaways. The Green Bay Packers led the NFL last year with 40.

"We hadn't really run the defense yet," said cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who has two interceptions playing the vanilla schemes used in preseason. "So it's going to be real exciting to see what happens when we do start scheming our opponents and game-planning for them."

As a former head coach with the New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Rams, Haslett is rightfully seen as a major addition to the Redskins. But he's down on the recognition totem pole next to new head coach Mike Shanahan and new quarterback Donovan McNabb.

That's OK with Haslett, who has done just about all there is to do in the coaching world. Who else, for example, has a resume that includes both the World League of American Football (defensive coordinator, Sacramento Surge, 1991-92) and the United Football League (head coach, Florida Tuskers, 2009)?

Haslett, 54, hadn't planned to coach anywhere last year so that he could spend time watching his son play baseball and football. When the UFL called, he took the job because the condensed schedule made it possible for him to see all of his son's baseball games and half of the football games.

"I've kind of done it all now," Haslett said. "Somebody asked me the other day if I want to be a head coach again, I said, 'No, you know what I want to do, where I am in life? I just want to have a chance to win a Super Bowl.' So that's more important than anything. I've played, made All-Pro, I was coach of the year in 2000 — I don't think Mike has that."

That's right. Shanahan doesn't have a coach of the year award. But Shanahan does have two Super Bowl rings as head coach of the Denver Broncos.

"The reason I'm coaching is because of Mike," Haslett said. "I spent time with Mike in the offseason, and we were looking for some teams that might have an opportunity for jobs to come open. He told me he didn't want to go to a team that didn't have a chance to win, and this was one that did have a chance."

As an offensive-minded coach, Shanahan gives Haslett plenty of autonomy. It has been Haslett who in recent weeks has played the important role of peacemaker with Albert Haynesworth, acting as the good cop as opposed to Shanahan's bad cop approach to the malcontent defensive tackle.

"I spent time with Mike teaching him the defense this whole offseason," Haslett said. "We've watched film together, and I've coached him up like I was coaching a player. It was a blast. Sometimes I think he knows too much now."

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