Redskins takeaway something with Haslett’s defense

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.”