Haynesworth embraces new beginning

Haynesworth embraces new beginning
September 2, 2011, 5:18 am
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By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn

FOXBORO Just a couple plays into his first game with the New England Patriots, Albert Haynesworth was huffin' and puffin' his way towards the New England Patriots sideline.

Chances are good - very good - that won't be the last time we see the former All-Pro make a beeline towards the sidelines after just a few plays.

"What we do here, which is pretty good, we rotate a lot," Haynesworth said.

And it was all but a given that New England's defensive line rotation was going to include Haynesworth, even before he made his preseason debut in Thursday night's 18-17 loss to the New York Giants.

The 6-foot-6, 350-pound defensive lineman had three tackles.

"It was great," Haynesworth said of being on the field for the first time in a Patriots uniform. "I need to knock off a lot of rust. I've kind of been just resting, sitting in DC. I need to get back to that playing form I had when I was with the Titans."

Back then, Haynesworth was in a word, unstoppable.

At his size and athleticism, Haynesworth was one of the most feared defensive linemen in the NFL, which is why the Washington Redskins in 2009 were so willing to pony up and give him a 100 million contract which included a then-record 41 million guaranteed.

However, run-ins with the law as well as with his coaches, combined with a questionable work ethic, soon soured many on Haynesworth. That's why the Patriots were able to trade for him during the offseason and only have to give up a fifth-round pick to do so.

With the Patriots, Haynesworth recognizes the opportunity he has to essentially re-invent the negative image that so many have of him.

"To me, it's a career-saving place to come," he said. "I had no idea it would be like this. It's unbelievable. I wish I, two years ago, came here."

Haynesworth was on the field for 14 plays Thursday, all of which came as part of a four-man defensive front that frequently included another first game performer on Thursday, former New York Jets defensive lineman Shaun Ellis.

Ellis was on the field for 20 plays and finished with one tackle, a seven-yard sack.

"I feel good," Ellis said. "They did a great job of getting me in shape and doing the things they need to do to get me ready. Everybody here has treated me with the utmost respect, so I feel good about going into Monday night (at Miami)."

There were other first-timers on the field as well, such as rookie running back Shane Vereen, veteran defensive lineman Mike Wright and another rookie, cornerback Ras-I Dowling.

But after the game, much of the attention centered around Haynesworth. And while he didn't dominate when he was in the game, he did provide the kind of presence that forced the Giants' offensive line to double team him frequently. That created opportunities for his teammates to make plays.

How to best handle those double teams will be among the things Haynesworth will work on in practice leading up to the regular season opener at Miami next week. As good as practice may be, it's still no replacement for actual competition.

"It's a different tempo in practice," said Pats coach Bill Belichick.

And for Haynesworth, a different role that's sure to be instrumental in his impact on the Patriots this season.

With so much depth along the defensive line, the Patriots have the ability to create several three and four-man front combinations defensively that create problems for opponents.

There were some possessions on Thursday in which Haynesworth was lined up next to Vince Wilfork. Other possessions, it was Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter or Gerard Warren.

"We had good depth at Tennessee, but here? We have great depth," Haynesworth said. "We got guys that could go to any other team and start."

For now, all Haynesworth is concerned about is playing for the Patriots. There are still a number of players that will be cut in the coming days by New England, a group that Haynesworth hopes to not be a part of.

Because of the issues he had with the Redskins which resulted in his role being significantly reduced, there have been some concerns as to whether Haynesworth still has what it takes to be a high impact defensive lineman in the NFL.

"If I choose to go out there and play, like if, God forbid, I get cut from this team, I know I can go out there and play for another team," Haynesworth said.

However, he has made it abundantly clear that the Patriots are the only team he wants to suit up for now.

"I feel like this is going to be my last place I want to play," Haynesworth said. "If it doesn't work out here, I'm not going to play anywhere else."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.