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Can Haynesworth make the switch to 3-4?

Redskins need their top-paid player on board for a seamless transition. Brad Biggs

Print This January 14, 2010, 01:30 PM EST

One of Albert Haynesworth's problems, perceived or real, went away on Wednesday when Greg Blache told the National Football Post he’s retiring after 22 season in the NFL.

Haynesworth made it clear near the end of a season gone wrong for the Washington Redskins that he was unhappy in the system being run by the defensive coordinator -- and went as far as to say he couldn’t play under the same conditions in 2010. Haynesworth blasted Blache in comments to the Washington Post after he was sent home from practice on Christmas Day.

He doesn't have to be concerned about the same scheme now, but you have to wonder if someone told Haynesworth to be careful what he wished for in this instance. The Redskins hired longtime Pittsburgh Steelers defensive assistant Lou Spanos to be their linebackers coach on a busy Wednesday. It's a step in what is expected to be a conversion to a 3-4 defense under new coach Mike Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

That means the Redskins will likely be counting on their $100-million man to convert to nose tackle, a crucial yet unglamorous role in the scheme. Haynesworth wanted more freedom in what he was being asked to do under Blache, and the nose tackle role will be even more restrictive. It's a totally different extreme from what he was doing, and even playing end in a 3-4 scheme would be a far cry from what he was looking to do or allowed to do in the previous 4-3 defense.

The Redskins have some terrific building blocks for a 3-4 defense, starting with Haynesworth. Athletically, he can fill any role on the line in any scheme. Quite simply, the 3-4 doesn't work without a cog in the middle at the nose, and he's got the size and strength to be that man. That's why the first order of business for the new coaching staff is going to be getting Haynesworth to buy in. Completely. The club paid a fortune to land him as the prize of free agency, and when he's playing up to his capability, he's dominant. Haslett is considered a demanding coordinator, so this is going to be an interesting pairing to watch from the start.

If the Redskins can get Haynesworth on board, they could make the kind of seamless transition the Green Bay Packers did to the 3-4 under Dom Capers this season -- you know, until they stopped playing defense in the wild-card playoff round loss at Arizona. Rookie outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is going to be a terrific player to mold in the scheme, and veteran Andre Carter can probably make the transition. The Redskins are more equipped from a personnel standpoint to become a 3-4 team than the Packers were.

But if Haynesworth doesn't embrace the change, the Redskins are going to pick up where they left off, with their top-paid player brooding about his role. And then the new coaching staff is going to struggle to make it happen. Players win games, not schemes, but the Redskins need this player to be invested in the defensive plan as much as they are in him.

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