FOXBORO — Few coaches are better at helping troubled NFL stars author a successful second act that Bill Belichick, and Albert Haynesworth is hoping that the Patriots coach can do it again.
The defensive lineman, who was dealt to New England last week from Washington for a fifth-round pick in 2013, is hoping that Belichick and the Patriots can do for him what they did for Corey Dillon and Randy Moss — namely, kick start a once-impressive career that stalled because of issues both on and off the field, including trouble with the law, accusations of dogging it and clashes with coaches and management.
As far as Haynesworth is concerned, it’s the dawn of a new day.
“It’s a great organization. I’ve been a fan of this team for a long time, other than when I was playing them, but I always liked the Patriots,” he said during an eight-minute session with the media on Tuesday afternoon (click here for the highlights of his Q&A).
“I’ve came to games when I was in the pros. I came to, I was here when they played the AFC Championship — I want to say they were playing, I think, San Diego — and I was sitting up in the stands freezing my butt off. I sat there and watched them play. I’ve always been a fan of this team.”
The 30-year-old Haynesworth, a 6-foot-5, 330-pounder, joins his third team of his career. Drafted out of Tennessee in 2002, he became a star with the Titans, reaching the Pro Bowl on two occasions before signing a seven-year, $100 million free-agent deal with the Redskins prior to the start of the 2009 season.
However, Washington was a bad fit — several conflicts with the coaching staff ended up in a suspension to close out the 2010 season, the worst of his career. Asked who was to blame for the way things went down with the Redskins, he shrugged.
“Well, [that’s] just the way they had it, the way they wanted to play it,” he said. “It’s all got my name on it. It’s just whatever, but I’m just going to leave that in the past, leave that in Washington and have a fresh, new, clean start here in New England.”
That start began with an early-morning text from his agent. What was his reaction when he got the news?
“Hell yeah,” he said with a smile.
“It’s a great chance. It’s a great chance to be on a great team. It’s a chance to restore my name or whatever you want to say. It’s a great chance to get back on the field and play football,” he said. “Everything is in the past. I’m leaving all that stuff back in Washington. Right now, I’m just concentrating on being just a great player for this organization.”
Haynesworth went through his second padded practice with his new team on Tuesday afternoon, and it’s clear that he remains a work in progress. There were flashes of the old Haynesworth on Sunday when, in fewer than 15 reps, he looked absolutely dominant. On Tuesday, there were some fits and starts, but it’s clear the Patriots are going to take it slow with the former Titan and Redskin.
“Albert has worked hard,” Belichick said. “I think that it’s coming [along]. We’ve got a long way to go, so just take it day-by-day, but I think he’s doing fine.”
“[He’s] a big boy,” said center Dan Koppen. “I hope he can come out here and help this football team. He’s got tremendous physical skills and his attitude has been great. He’s been good to have around.”
Haynesworth has spent time in New England — he said Tuesday his best friend lives here, and he once “got a lot of angry texts from 508 numbers up here” after a nasty preseason hit on Tom Brady. However, it’s one thing to be a fan of a franchise and its another thing to view it from the inside.
“Being inside, it’s very detail oriented,” he said. “[Belichick] demands perfection every time. I’ve been on some really good teams with a lot of great players, but I’ve never been in a situation where it’s like perfection every time. And not like, for a person, but for a team.
“I met with coach and we’ve had a great conversation and I met with Mr. Kraft and we had a great conversation and [defensive line coach] Pepper [Johnson]. Everything has been great. The players, even some of the fans I’ve ran into, everybody here has been awesome.”
One of the accusations against Haynesworth in Washington was an unwillingness to play in a 3-4 scheme. But he said Tuesday that the fresh start in New England includes a compliance to do whatever is asked of him.
“I don’t know, just to kill the quarterback,” he said with a smile when asked about his role in New England. “I’m willing to attack the quarterback and kill the running back and knock everything back.
“I don’t care what it is. Whatever gap the ball is in, that’s the gap I want to be in.”
Part of that enthusiasm could stem from the idea of playing next to Pro Bowl defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. With the Patriots looking to play more 4-3 going forward, the idea of the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Haynesworth lined up next to the 6-foot-2, 325-pound Wilfork could be trouble for opposing offenses looking to run the ball.
“That’s going to be scary. That’s going to be scary for other teams,” he said with a smile when asked about a defensive front that includes he and Wilfork. “I went to the Pro Bowl with Vince and the funny thing is when we were at the Pro Bowl, I said, ‘Man, what if we were on the same team? That’d be crazy.’ He said, ‘No way that’s going to happen.’ But shoot, look, two or three years later, here we are.”