During my travels to Baltimore and Washington last week, I had a chance to speak with Redskins veteran inside linebacker London Fletcher, who is coming off his first Pro Bowl season in 12 mostly brilliant years in the NFL.
We talked about a bunch of things, including his continued passion for the game at age 35, his belief in new head coach Mike Shanahan and his unceasing desire to get better as a player.
We also spoke about his critical remarks about Albert Haynesworth during the off-season, and where the two stand now. Back in June, Fletcher didn't hold anything back while criticizing Haynesworth for boycotting the team's off-season workouts.
"If it doesn’t benefit him from a football standpoint, he just doesn’t get the big picture,” Fletcher said. “That’s the really disappointing part of all this. You decide to play a team sport, you have to take everybody else into consideration with the decisions you make. Right now, he’s not taking everybody else into consideration. It’s all about him, how he’s going to benefit.”
Fletcher has since softened his stance on Haynesworth — even after Haynesworth ripped Shanahan's handling of his injury situation that kept him out of practice most of last week. Even so, Fletcher and Haynesworth are barely on speaking terms.
Fletcher did say he spoke to Haynesworth in the wake of his dustup with Shanahan after last weekend's preseason game against the Ravens. But that may have been the first time the two have spoken in months. When I spoke to Fletcher last week, he said he hadn't spoken to Haynesworth since the defensive tackle reported back to the team for the preseason.
"We haven't had a conversation," Fletcher said. "We don't have to, because he's done the right thing, and he's come in with the right attitude."
I asked Fletcher if the situation was awkward, and he said it wasn't.
"Not really," he said. "We're teammates, so there's communication we have to have on the football field. Sometimes it takes a while for people to see both sides of the picture. Maybe it took me a while to see his side of it and maybe it took him a while to see my side of it. At the end of the day he’s here and that stuff’s behind us now."
Or is it? Haynesworth appears to be a ticking time bomb, and you never know when he's going to go off again on Shanahan. It's been a quiet week after his blowup after the Ravens game, but it's anyone's guess whether Haynesworth will vent once more. The Redskins face the Jets tonight at New Meadowlands Stadium, where Haynesworth is expected to be used mostly at defensive end.
He has complained about the possibility of playing nose tackle in the 3-4 defense, preferring to play end and having a chance to rush the passer and not simply engage blockers as a nose tackle.
As for Fletcher, he looks to the season with great optimism, as he touched on a number of subjects.
On whether he thinks the Redskins are a playoff team: "I really do. We have a lot of good talent on this football team. We have the right coach, the right scheme. Now as players, we need to do our part, studying, practicing, everybody being all into what we’re doing. We have what it takes not only to be a playoff team but a contender, a real Super Bowl contender."
On some of the coaches he's worked under: "I was around Dick Vermeil (in St. Louis). He knew how to run a football team, how to motivate, delegate, push guys’ buttons. Been around Joe Gibbs, a Hall of Fame coach. Gregg Williams in Buffalo, we weren't successful, but he did a lot of good things that got us headed in the right direction. Now coach Shanahan, who's probably going to be a Hall of Fame coach himself. I've been around some great head coaches, so I can get a good feeling about things."
On why he's still excited playing football at age 35: "I'm loving it. It's been great. I'll never complain. God has given me the talent to play, and I play for an audience of one."
On Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense: "It’s an exciting defense to play in. It’s different for me, a different feel, but you just have to play great team defense. You’ll get a chance to make plays. As long as we’re winning, that’s all that counts."
Hasslett has played the position, so he can give me the ins and outs. He was defensive rookie of the year, so I guess he had to be pretty good.