- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 15, 2009

Consistently heckled on the road and even occasionally at his new home field for the lucrative contract he signed during the offseason, Albert Haynesworth was more than happy to see 500 friendly faces Tuesday morning.

As the Washington Redskins’ defensive tackle strode into the Woodburn Elementary School gymnasium in Annandale as part of the “NFL Take a Player to School” program, the students gasped and screamed for Haynesworth, in awe of his 350-pound frame and thrilled that a player was visiting them.

“It was an awesome experience,” he said. “It’s definitely nice to get a reception like that, and it makes you proud to be a football player. We have a lot of kids wearing Redskins stuff, so they really do know who you are.”

Opposing offenses definitely know who Haynesworth is, be it left defensive tackle or left end.

Perhaps only a Super Bowl title would justify the decision by owner Dan Snyder to give Haynesworth $41 million guaranteed in the opening hours of free agency; the Redskins could have done as the Denver Broncos did and sign multiple players for the same money.

Still, it’s hard to argue that Haynesworth hasn’t made the Redskins’ defense better even in this miserable 2-6 first half of the season.

On the field, Haynesworth draws double teams on about half of his snaps, allowing teammates to make plays.

Off the field, Haynesworth has fit in and, if caught on the right day by the media, gives decent analysis of what’s gone wrong with the Redskins, who open the second half of the season Sunday against Denver at FedEx Field.

“Just coming in, it’s felt good,” he said. “It was never awkward. It never felt like a different place. Guys came up to me and I went up to guys. It wasn’t like I was a new guy. Ask them about my personality; I’m always cracking jokes and laughing.”

Defensive tackle and straight shooter Cornelius Griffin gave a verbal thumbs up for No. 92.

“Great guy, and if he wasn’t, I’d tell you,” Griffin said. “This is a tight-knit group on the D-line. We make fun of him about the money, but he comes back. He’s a clown, in a way.”

Walking off the practice field during training camp, Haynesworth joked to rookie Jeremy Jarmon that “$99 million of the $100 million is in the last year” of his seven-year contract. On Wednesday, talking about the $5,000 fine he received for his role in a sideline melee in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week, he said, “We make money here, so I can pay it.”

What’s no joke is Haynesworth’s pregame ritual. His scowl would make the toughest guy run for cover.

“When he has ‘the look’ on, he’s ready to play,” Griffin said.

The Redskins were ready for Haynesworth to make a huge impact on an already-solid defense. Unofficially, he has played 366 of 504 snaps (72.6 percent, second only to Andre Carter among the Redskins’ defensive linemen) and posted 25 tackles, three sacks and three pass breakups. Last year with Tennessee, Haynesworth had 51 tackles and 8.5 sacks.

“Different playcalling, different techniques, different players around you,” Griffin said. “You have to get used to playing next to a new guy and know what he’s going to do in certain situations. The defense he played in last year, it’s different than what we do here. But he’s done a good job.”

Added secondary coach Jerry Gray: “Albert has done a great job of making them double-team the three-technique defensive tackle [lined up between guard and center]. There are three other one-on-ones around him - you can’t double the ends or the other tackle. He’s done a lot of stuff by being on the football field.”

Others have benefited from Haynesworth’s presence:

c Carter is winning individual matchups and doesn’t have to fend off a tackle-guard double-team or a chip block by a running back. He’s on pace for a career-high 13 sacks. (By comparison, Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who had 35.5 sacks playing four years with Haynesworth, has one this year.)

c Rookie Brian Orakpo lines up at end next to Haynesworth on passing downs and has shown he’s a ready-for-prime-time pass rusher, posting 5.5 sacks.

c Middle linebacker London Fletcher ranks fourth in the NFL with 75 tackles, helped by not having to shed a bigger guard or center before making the stop.

c Griffin, who for five years absorbed punishment as the Redskins’ most effective inside player, has stayed healthy and played 62 percent of the snaps in his seven games.

“The other teammates around [Haynesworth], he’s rallied around them because he sees how hard they play and they’ve certainly rallied around him,” coach Jim Zorn said. “We’ve played him even a little bit more than what was expected, and he’s done well when he’s in there. He’s a guy that continues to push to win, and he’s ticked off if we don’t win.”

A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Haynesworth knows that if the second half of the season goes like the first, nobody on the defense will be getting a trip to Miami even if the defense remains ranked among the top 10 in several statistical categories.

“In past years, guys who have dominated and had great numbers but on a losing team, there was no recognition for the Pro Bowl because obviously that guy didn’t do enough - that’s the way I look at it,” he said. “If we’re going to be a great team and everybody’s numbers improve and go to the Pro Bowl, we have to start winning some games.”

Standing outside Woodburn Elementary after his well-received appearance, Haynesworth reflected on the sixth-ranked defense and his approach in particular.

“It didn’t happen overnight in Tennessee, and I didn’t expect it to happen overnight here either,” he said. “We’re working toward it. We still have some ways to go. I really can’t worry too much about what other people do. I have to worry about myself, keep playing hard, keep trying to be disruptive and try to keep this defense at the top of the NFL.”

Note - Redskins punter Hunter Smith will return Sunday after a one-game absence because of a groin injury.

Sam Paulescu, who handled the duties at Atlanta, was released Saturday after Smith felt no ill effects from Friday’s practice. Smith has missed three of the Redskins’ eight games this year.

Safety Lendy Holmes was elevated from the practice squad to fill the open roster spot.

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