Albert Haynesworth was claimed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers off waivers last Wednesday and, one day later, put together a promising first practice in pewter and red. Of course, as any skeptical fan would be quick to point out – and rightfully so – a single practice doesn't mean much in the long run. It was, as was noted on Buccaneers.com that day, simply a good start.
Haynesworth's effort on Sunday can be viewed the same way, but one order of magnitude higher.
This was the former Pro Bowler's first game as a Buccaneer, with real opponents, real tackling and real adversity, and it too, was a good debut. The game itself did not go well – the Buccaneers lost to the visiting Houston Texans, 37-9 – so it is a bit difficult to separate any optimistic thoughts from that long afternoon. The team was encouraged, nevertheless, by how quickly Haynesworth was able to make an impact within its defensive scheme.
"You know, he played a good game yesterday," said Head Coach Raheem Morris, who inserted his newest player immediately into the starting lineup at the three-technique defensive tackle position. "He was excited to be in a new place and he was excited get out there and play 47 snaps. He was excited to go out there and make seven tackles for us. He played decent. He had some mistakes as well, that was expected. We had some sliding on the first series, you know, we had some things of that nature, but to go out there and play as well as he was and be effective like he was is promising and it's something to build on with this team and the players around him."
Haynesworth started just a few days after joining the team largely because standout defensive tackle Gerald McCoy had gone down with a season-ending biceps injury the weekend before. He ended up playing roughly 70% of the time the defense was on the field, and while the weather was more pleasant than it could have been that was still a big change from the first half of the season. He played six games in New England before being waived last Tuesday, none as a starter and none with that type of workload.
"I felt fine," said Haynesworth later. "I was a little bit tired, but that was the most plays I've played all year. I felt a little bit tired, but felt pretty good [overall]. When I was in New England it was hard – you play like three or four plays, and then you sit for a quarter, quarter-and-a-half, and have to go back out and play. It was hard to get into a rhythm. The more I played the better I got."
Haynesworth was credited with seven tackles, as Morris mentioned above, which was the most among any of the Buccaneers' linemen. He also impressed his coaches with his quick penetration into the backfield on a number of plays, which is exactly what they were hoping Haynesworth would give them from the three-technique position. Haynesworth said he felt comfortable in the Bucs' defense and picked up the scheme quickly, only struggling at the time to play on the left side of the interior line, which he never did in Tennessee. He says that transition is the main thing he has to work on going forward.
Haynesworth believes that if he can succeed in that transition and give the Bucs' consistent and impactful play at the three-technique spot, it will help a Tampa Bay defense that is definitely in need of a spark.
"I want to be disruptive and make more plays," he said. "My job, like what I did in Tennessee, was to help my teammates get better. A lot of people were focused on me, and that created opportunities for my teammates. Same thing here – hopefully, they'll recognize me. That way, guys can make a lot of plays and we can get back on a winning streak."
Of course, Haynesworth's debut couldn't have been particularly enjoyable from a team standpoint, as he stepped right into one of the team's more lopsided losses in the last few years. The Bucs are also in the midst of a three-game losing streak that is putting them in a difficult position in the NFC playoff race. Still, nothing that happened Sunday altered Haynesworth's initial impression of the Buccaneers when he arrived last week.
"I think we've got a good team," he said. "I see the way we practice and see the talent we have. We're a young team and instead of letting a bad play go and wiping it out your mind, and going and playing football, we let it pile on and kept thinking about it. Then, there's another bad play and that was kind of the game you saw. Our head coach came in and said to blame it on him, but he didn't play a snap of football. We're out on the field, and we've got to take responsibility. We can't let one bad play keep us down."
Similarly, the Bucs won't rest on one nice performance and assume Haynesworth's assimilation into the defense is complete. He has as much work to do in the week ahead as the rest of his teammates as they prepare for Sunday's game against the undefeated and high-flying Green Bay Packers. Still, Haynesworth's first game as a Buccaneer was an encouraging one, and that's something to build on.