Haynesworth a work in progress

Hasynesworth (Strasinger)

The Tennessee Titans used their first-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft to pick former UT Vol defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Progress has been slow, partially due to his holdout prior to joining practice and then to an ankle injury sustained within his first week. But he is getting better.

Photo by Charles Small
First-round draft pick from UT Albert Haynesworth is making strides as a defensive tackle for the Titans.

Six games into his first NFL season, 2002 first-round draft pick Albert Haynesworth is still searching for his first sack as a Tennessee Titan. But that's not to say that the 21-year-old rookie defensive tackle from the University of Tennessee has not made significant strides.

Haynesworth, who held out for five days before signing his first pro contract, then promptly injured his ankle in training camp, is making up for lost time, even if the stat sheet doesn't necessarily show his progress in tangible terms. Through six games, Haynesworth has eight total tackles, six solo stops and two assists. The raw rookie still has a ways to go before realizing the potential the Titans saw when they spent the 15th pick in the draft on him, but he is advancing.

Haynesworth says he is now getting more comfortable with his new surroundings, and is beginning to make the adjustments to life as a professional football player.

"I'm getting better every game as far as seeing everything and knowing the game and getting back to what I was doing in college," Haynesworth said. "It took me a while to get there, but in the NFL, I'm getting it a lot quicker than I was at college."

The 6-6, 320-pounder said the speed of the pro game was what caught him most by surprise as he made the adjustment from playing in the Southeastern Conference to the NFL.

"When I first started off, it was the speed of the game, but now it's slowed down, and nothing really surprises me now," Haynesworth said. The other thing that has improved for Haynesworth has been his conditioning. During mini-camps, he regularly became fatigued and even laid down on the sideline after his celebrated mini-camp scraps with Benji Olson and Zach Piller on back-to-back plays.

"I can play a lot and play for a longer period of time. I'm in better shape and when I started off," Haynesworth said. "I'm more in football shape. You can't get in football shape by running, running hills or whatever. You've got to play football to get in football shape."

Those around Haynesworth are seeing the improvement as well, but most believe he is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. "I think he's done a good job of catching up, but I think he's still got some improving to do," said veteran Henry Ford, whom Haynesworth counts as one of his mentors. "I think he's still got some better play in him, and that's going to come in time."

According to the coaches, it will come as soon as Haynesworth grasps the necessary discipline and consistency needed both on the practice field and under game conditions.

"Where Albert stands to improve is in two areas – one is on the practice field and the other is in the games," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "His reps are coming and increasing in the games and he is doing better things. Practice time has been better for him because he's been able to work on things.

"Once he realizes that he needs to play within the scheme consistently and anticipate and those kinds of things, then he'll begin to make more and more plays. He occasionally has a tendency to free lance and not use technique, and he's so talented up front that he can get by with it, but you're really much more productive when you stay within the scheme."

Defensive line coach Jim Washburn simply wants to see consistency and effort from Haynesworth, something that lingered over the rookie from his college days.

"He's still inconsistent. He was coming along, but I don't think he played very well at week," Washburn said. "He's inconsistent with his technique and effort, and if you don't get that, I'm not going to be satisfied with any of it. He's got to have that consistency. That's his problem, but that's every rookie's problem." And it's something Haynesworth says he will work to correct, even if it comes by learning from the examples set by veterans like Ford and John Thornton.

"I'm just trying to learn from them because they know everything about the league, so I'm trying to learn from Henry and J.T.," Haynesworth said. "I'm not finished with my learning yet. I want to be productive, but I still want to learn as much from them as possible."

Thornton says Haynesworth has already learned quite a bit, even having to play catch-up after missing so much time this summer. But, he added, that the rookie must simply develop consistency and find the things he does best and stick with them.

"I think the thing with him is to just keep improving and be consistent. You can have a good game one week and a bad game the next week and be back to square one," Thornton said. "I think with him the biggest thing with him is to find out what he does best and keep doing it. For a young guy, he picks up a lot. I know I did. I didn't know who to learn from. I learned from Henry, Mike Jones and Jason [Fisk], and was trying to put too much of their games into mine. Then I found my own pattern and my own style to use. I think that's what Albert's got to do, find his own style and use it."

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