Haynesworth Worthy of MVP Consideration
There's Haynesworth—who is 6'6" and well above his listed weight of 320 pounds—defying gravity with a Superman-like leap over a guard to foil a goal-line play. There's Haynesworth bullying a left tackle on a pass rush while aligned at end—a position where players his size are rarely blessed with such burst off the snap.
Yet for Schwartz, one of his favorite plays this year doesn't even end with a Haynesworth tackle. Rather, it symbolizes how far Haynesworth has come in seven bumpy NFL seasons.
Last month, Green Bay wide receiver Greg Jennings broke free in the Tennessee secondary after a catch. Among the Titans giving chase was Haynesworth, who motored downfield faster than five of his other teammates in hot pursuit.
"Watch this 350-something-pound guy running," said Schwartz, using a red laser pointer to follow Haynesworth on a large projection screen. "There are a lot of guys back here who aren't running like that. He's running as fast as our strong safety. He doesn't quit until the play is over.
"Other guys end up chasing him down, but Albert's not giving up a whole lot of ground. That's unusual to see."
So is a defensive player winning the NFL's Most Valuable Player award—something that has happened just once since 1972. But without a clear-cut frontrunner having emerged 11 weeks into this season, Haynesworth deserves strong consideration.
He's the most dominant player on a team with the best record (10-0) and scoring defense (13.1-point average). With seven sacks, Haynesworth is tied for the league lead among defensive tackles with Minnesota's Kevin Williams, who is considered the only other player at the position in the same stratosphere talent-wise.
Haynesworth has excelled despite drawing even more extensive double-team blocking than usual, as standout right end Kyle Vanden Bosch has missed three of Tennessee's past four games with a groin injury.
"According to my linemen, he's the best in the league," said Houston quarterback Sage Rosenfels, whose team was victimized for five tackles and one sack by Haynesworth in a lopsided Week Three loss. "He's so big that you can't move him in run blocking. And on pass plays, he moves so well. It's almost impossible to block him one-on-one."
Jacksonville's offensive linemen were quickly reminded of that in last Sunday's 24-14 loss. On the first snap, Haynesworth grabbed running back Fred Taylor from behind for a meager two-yard gain after shoving 330-pound left guard Uche Nwaneri into the backfield. The series ended four plays later when Haynesworth shifted to end and did his best Reggie White impression, clubbing David Garrard to produce a sack and fumble.
As usual, the Titans aligned Haynesworth on the right side of their defensive line everywhere from the A-gap between left guard and center to a four-technique over left tackle. Haynesworth finished with five more stops even though the Jaguars avoided running to his side. Haynesworth also created ample tackling opportunities for others because of the extra blocking he attracted.
This regularly happens as teams change their normal offensive strategies to account for Haynesworth in their game plans.
"The fact he's able to line up at multiple positions makes teams really prepare not only for what we're going to do but where he's going to be," Titans defensive tackle Tony Brown said. "One part of their focus has to be on him. That frees up a lot of things for the rest of us."
But will such brilliant play at a nonskill position get recognized by Associated Press MVP voters? It hasn't in the past. The last defensive tackle to receive the honor was Minnesota's Alan Page in 1971—a decade before Haynesworth was born.
Quarterbacks and running backs have won the award all but twice in the past 36 seasons, with linebacker Lawrence Taylor (1986) and kicker Mark Moseley (1982) the lone exceptions.
Haynesworth isn't surprised.
"I think it's because the NFL is all about scoring, big (offensive) plays and stuff like that," Haynesworth said following Friday's Titans practice. "Everybody loves the points and the guys who throw it deep—the Joe Montanas, Troy Aikmans, Peyton Mannings and Brett Favres. L.T. was amazing, so you couldn't discount him. You had to consider him for that."
Schwartz makes the same argument for Haynesworth.
"One of the things I've heard Hall of Fame voters talk about is, 'Did this guy change the way the game was played? Was he considered the best at his position?'" Schwartz said. "To me, that same criteria would go toward the MVP of a season. You can also talk about the success of the team. ... With him, we've played extremely well on defense the past couple of years."
Talent was never the issue with Haynesworth, a 2002 first-round draft choice at the age of 20. It was consistency, conditioning and maturity. Drawing a five-game suspension for stomping on the uncovered head of Dallas center Andre Gurode in 2006 remains Haynesworth's most memorable NFL moment.
Winning an MVP trophy would change that.
"It's not like I'm a sob story," Haynesworth said, "But coming from where I was to now and being recognized as one of the best defensive players in the league, it's amazing. It's like a storybook or a movie, like Gone With the Wind."
Haynesworth could be gone from Tennessee this offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Only 27 years old, Haynesworth also is expected to command the largest NFL contract ever given a defensive tackle.
The Titans have the salary-cap space available to re-sign him, but money isn't the only factor in Tennessee's decision-making process. With an investment of such magnitude, the franchise also must feel confident that Haynesworth's past issues are behind him and that he will remain motivated after securing a massive payday.
If you take Haynesworth at his word, the Titans have nothing to worry about.
"Hopefully next year I can have that season where it's, 'Hands down, this is the best guy I've ever seen,'" he said. "I haven't gotten there yet. I really feel like I can get better."
That's a scary thought considering he may be recognized as the NFL's best player in 2008.
This article originally published on FOXSports.com.
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