FOXBORO, Mass. — Albert Haynesworth was in attendance for the Patriots' last playoff victory, sitting in the Gillette Stadium stands with a friend when the Pats beat the Chargers to earn a spot in Super Bowl XLII.
The defensive lineman got the tickets from Rodney Harrison, and he sat in the family section above the door where the Patriots walked out of the locker room. Obviously, he was rooting for New England, an organization for which he has always greatly respected.
"I always liked the way coach [Bill] Belichick did things, the way the team performed," Haynesworth said. "I was sitting up in the stands freezing my butt off. I sat there and watched them play. I've always been a fan of this team."
Haynesworth actually has a group of friends who live in the Boston area, and he said he received a bunch of angry text messages from the 508 area code after he landed on Tom Brady and injured his shoulder in a 2009 preseason game.
Now, that same fan base has taken a liking to Haynesworth, who had drawn considerable cheers during practice sessions Sunday and Tuesday. In fact, only Chad Ochocinco and Tom Brady are getting cheered louder.
It's been a welcomed sight for the big fella who is looking to reshape the direction of his career. Haynesworth was considered the most dominant defensive player in the league in 2007 and 2008, and he was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, his last season with the Titans.
He signed a $100 million contract with Washington that offseason, though, and went in the tank. He couldn't get along with each of the Redskins' head coaches — Jim Zorn in 2009 and Mike Shanahan in 2010 — and he refused to play for Shanahan's 3-4 system, which is somewhat similar to Belichick's scheme.
So far through two practices, Haynesworth has lined up as a defensive tackle in four-man fronts, and that position has undoubtedly suited him best throughout the first nine seasons of his career.
When asked what his role might be in this offense, Haynesworth offered a response that won't sit well with New England's 2011 opponents.
"I don't know, just to kill the quarterback," he said.
But what about the 3-4?
"I'm willing to attack the quarterback, and kill the running back and knock everything back," Haynesworth replied.
Even in Belichick's two-gap scheme, where he'd be responsible for absorbing blockers to let the linebackers make the plays?
"I don't care what it is," Haynesworth said. "Whatever gap the ball is in, that's the gap I want to be in."
Haynesworth has done a great job controlling the line of scrimmage during his limited reps in two live practices, but he's still working to get back into shape. The Patriots are also monitoring a knee issue, which isn't considered serious, so they've shut him down halfway through each session.
Haynesworth even had to fight through a triple-team Sunday when the Patriots' offense lined up a tight end in the backfield on his side. He displayed more dominance Tuesday when he savagely fought through Dan Koppen on one snap and a rotating set of guards and centers on four others. By the fifth consecutive live snap, Haynesworth was gassed, and that ended his hands-on activity.
Even with limited activity, he has earned Koppen's respect, which is significant because the center is one of the team's respected leaders.
"[Haynesworth is a] big boy," Koppen said. "I hope he can come out here and help this football team. He's got tremendous physical skills. His attitude has been great. He's been good to have around."
From here, it's up to Haynesworth, who sounded like he was in a good place mentally. He spoke highly of his meetings with Belichick, owner Robert Kraft and defensive line coach Pepper Johnson. Haynesworth has also known Vince Wilfork for a few years, so he's got a big ally on the line.
Haynesworth came across as well-spoken, cordial and fairly humorous. He also sounded like a man who really wants to prove that he's still got some great football left in the tank. Based on conversations with people who know Haynesworth, that type of attitude could once again make him one of the most feared defensive players in the league.
When asked what he meant by restoring his name, Haynesworth responded, "Just to show that Albert Haynesworth can still play football. That's how I got a name, I guess, other than the one my family gave to me. That's what everybody knows me as — Haynesworth. [I want] to show everybody that I can still play football."
Haynesworth wouldn't take complete responsibility for the things that happened in Washington, but he did say, "It's all got my name on it." Clearly, he understood what has happened with his reputation, and he has become thrilled with the possibility of rewriting it with the Patriots.
"It's going to be awesome," Haynesworth said of playing in New England. "I enjoy being here. It's a refresher, and I love it. It'll kind of revive me playing football again.
"It's all about now, rewriting my name as Albert Haynesworth the Patriot."
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