Tennessee Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn knew the inevitable Albert Haynesworth departure questions were coming last week at the Titans' organized team activities.
“We’re going to line up 11 guys the first game and somebody is going to be at right tackle,” Washburn said. “I’ve dreaded this since he left because every person is going to ask me about Albert being gone.
“I’m just going to coach the guys we’ve got, and we’re going to be fine. We lost [Travis] LaBoy and [Antwan] Odom, and everyone said, ‘What are you going to do about the pass rush?’ We had three less sacks at defensive end last season than we had the year before, because Albert got three as a defensive end. We didn’t miss a beat. I think we’ve got a chance to be just as good or better than we’ve ever been.”
One big reason Washburn is so confident the drop-off of Haynesworth won’t be devastating is the rotation of defensive tackles he has this season, led by Tony Brown, Jason Jones and second-round pick Sen’Derrick Marks. But another reason Washburn is so excited is simply that end Kyle Vanden Bosch, the defensive tone-setter, is healthy and active again.
How much does that help after Vanden Bosch’s 2008 season was ruined by a nagging groin injury?
“A bunch,” says Washburn. “We picked up his sacks by Jacob Ford and Dave Ball, but there’s not any way to put a price tag on him.”
What Washburn means by that is Vanden Bosch’s emotional leadership as much as his on-field production. Vanden Bosch almost never came off the field from 2005-07, and is practice and game habits are one of the intangible qualities that helps make Vanden Bosch so valuable. It’s a role he relishes.
“A big role on this team is being a playmaker and being disruptive. But when I’m able to practice every day, just be 100 percent and be out there on the field as much as possible, I feel like it just picks the whole team up,” Vanden Bosch said. “It’s my role as a leader.
“I feel like having ownership of this defense, and if I’m sitting out of practices or if I’m resting or rehabbing or healing, I feel like the defense takes a step back. I think my role on this team is more than just being a guy that gets pressure on the quarterbacks. It’s a responsibility that I accept and feel proud of.”
If things continue as they are in OTAs, Vanden Bosch won’t have to worry about sitting out of practices and games with the groin injury.
“I feel good. It’s been seven-and-a-half weeks since the off-season program started,” he said. “I haven’t had any pain, any limitations or any setbacks. It feels good. It’s hard to manage injuries that linger. It’s hard to go out there and just let it fly when you have something that just keeps popping up. Now it feels like I’ve passed that test, and there’s going to be no lasting effects.”
That is good news for Washburn, who says Vanden Bosch is one of a kind when it comes to his approach _ or almost one of a kind.
“He’s the most unique guy I’ve ever coached in 30 years,” Washburn said, adding that a fellow named Charles Stein he coached at Lees-McRae College in the late 1970s had an approach that rivaled Vanden Bosch’s.
Vanden Bosch, who says entering the final year of his contract won’t be a distraction, is eager to prove he can hold up his end of the bargain at right defensive end without Haynesworth lining up next to him. He is plenty confident in his defensive line mates helping fill the Haynesworth void.
“Physically Albert has tools that nobody else has. We have these defensive tackles that played last year and played well,” Vanden Bosch said. “They weren’t just fill-in guys until Albert got back on the field. They made plays, and in an expanded role this year, I expect more of that. … I feel like I need to prove myself too, to show that I can be productive and play at a high level without Albert lining up next to me.”