McNabb back on practice field, Haynesworth still backing up

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ASHBURN, Va. | Donovan McNabb was practicing again, Albert Haynesworth was still running mostly with the backups, and Brian Orakpo opened practice by yelling: “Dallas week! Y’all know what time it is.”

The Washington Redskins hit regular season mode Monday with as much drama as ever, with tension a bit higher at practice and coach Mike Shanahan ratcheting his game face up a notch or two ahead of Sunday night’s opener against the Dallas Cowboys.

The good news for the Redskins was that McNabb was wearing a helmet instead of a baseball cap for the first time in two weeks, since spraining his left ankle in the preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens on Aug. 21. While he’s lost a lot of valuable practice and playing time getting over the injury, McNabb appears on pace to make his Redskins regular season debut in prime time.

“He’s ready to go,” Shanahan said.

The more complex issue revolves around Haynesworth, the defensive lineman who has been a source of friction for most of the calendar year. Haynesworth was made to play the entire game Thursday in the preseason finale against Arizona when all of the regular starters had the night off — unheard of for a ninth-year veteran who’s twice been an All-Pro — and there remains uncertainty as to his role in the defense.

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said Haynesworth took “a few” snaps with the first-stringers Monday and that it doesn’t make a difference who starts because linemen are frequently rotated in and out of the game. Haslett said Haynesworth took snaps at defensive end, nose tackle and played some in the nickel packages.

“He has a much better understanding” of the defense, Haslett said. “He’s starting to come around.”

Shanahan and Haynesworth walked off the field together, but the coach still isn’t anywhere close to heaping praise on the player who skipped the team’s offseason workouts and didn’t pass a conditioning test until the 10th day of training camp.

“He worked hard and made a few mistakes here and there,” said Shanahan, asked to review Haynesworth’s performance against the Cardinals. “But he’s getting better.”

As for any definite word that Haynesworth will even play on Sunday? Don’t look for any enlightenment from Shanahan.

“He’s one of our players,” the coach said. “We’re going to play the best players who are ready to play.”

Shanahan soon grew tired of questions about Haynesworth, as has happened several times in his sessions with reporters over the past few weeks. The other players couldn’t agree more — they’re still hoping for the day when the Shanahan-Haynesworth saga is finally over.

“Hopefully, whatever they got going they can go on and iron it out,” cornerback Carlos Rogers said, “where he can go on and get out with us.”

Defensive end Phillip Daniels took a more practical view. He noted — as did Shanahan and Haslett — that all of the missed offseason and early training camp practices got Haynesworth so far behind that it’s going to take even more time to fully catch up.

“Two, three games into the season, he’ll be fully adapted to what we’re doing, and he’ll be fine,” Daniels said.

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