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.”