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'Mad scientist' turns around Redskins' defense

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'Mad scientist' turns around Redskins' defense

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) At the midpoint of the season, the Washington Redskins were on pace to become the worst pass defense in NFL history, the first to give up 5,000 yards through the air.

Needless to say, Jim Haslett's stock was a bit low at the time. When head coach Mike Shanahan was asked if there would be any midseason changes to his coaching staff, the defensive coordinator was at the top of the list.

Now Haslett is on another list, a possible candidate for one or more of the vacant head coaching jobs in the league. The transformation he's led in the second half of the season has been so remarkable that he's been dubbed ``the mad scientist'' by defensive tackle Barry Cofield.

There are lots of reasons why the Redskins have won seven straight and will be hosting the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in the NFC playoffs. Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon, Shanahan and others deserve their share of credit, but so does Haslett and his defense.

``I definitely think these game plans that Haz has come up with have been, if not the reason, a major reason why we've been so successful on defense in getting these wins and sealing these games,'' cornerback Josh Wilsons said. ``Sometimes, you don't understand what a mad scientist is doing. But in the end, you look back on it and say, `Oh, that was an amazing call. I don't know how he knew to do that.'''

Dealing with a depleted group - starters Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker and Brandon Meriweather out for the season with injuries and Tanard Jackson suspended indefinitely - Haslett has come up with creative blitzes and coverages that opponents weren't expecting. He found ways to make the most out of the personnel he had. He challenged individual players such as cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who had an inconsistent season but was at his absolute best hounding Dez Bryant in the division-clinching win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Quarterbacks had a 95 passer rating against the Redskins in the first half of the season. It's been 78.2 in the second half. Points allowed dropped from 28.4 to 20.1. Washington is still ranked 30th in passing yards allowed, prompting Haslet on Thursday to say ``Our passing stats stink,'' but the trend is in the right direction.

``Everybody loses players,'' Haslett said. ``We just happened to lose a whole bunch at one time. And then we were kind of lost for a little while, trying to find our way. And then guys have stepped up and done a nice job playing. We worked a number of different combinations to get where we're at. It took us a little more time than we would have liked, but obviously it worked out for the best.''

The Redskins' recent play is a culmination of three years of adjustments after Shanahan hired Haslett and ordered a change in scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4. That meant taking some lumps - because the roster at the time consisted of older players and others who weren't suited to the new defense.

``It was as tough as it got,'' linebacker London Fletcher said. ``We were the 31st ranked defense that first year we transitioned to the 3-4. I don't think anybody was happy about that.''

This is a case where patience pays off. Haslett said he came to the Redskins to win a Super Bowl, and he sees the goal as finally within reach. He's already been a head coach for two other NFL teams, and the thought of leaving Washington to try it again didn't seem to thrill him when the subject was broached Thursday.

``As a player and an ex-player and a coach, I've kind of done everything I wanted to do from an individual standpoint,'' Haslett said. ``I made rookie of the year, I was coach of the year, all that stuff, so that stuff doesn't make a difference to me. I need to get a ring. That's one thing I don't have. Obviously, I like the future of this club, so that kind of answers the question.''

NOTES: LG Kory Lichtensteiger (sprained left ankle) and CB D.J. Johnson (sprained left knee) did not practice Thursday, while backup QB Kirk Cousins was back after missing one day with the flu. ... There were posters in the lockers of the Redskins special teams players Thursday that read: ``Everyone has to catch the rabbit'' and ``Everyone get a hit on 33,'' referring to Seattle Pro Bowl KR Leon Washington. ... Fletcher was selected as the NFL's defensive player of the month. He had three interceptions and two sacks in December, even though he was barely able to practice because of a sprained left ankle. ... The Redskins signed S Devin Holland to a reserve/futures contract. Holland played four games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011.

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PIC: Adrian Peterson has arrived at Redskins Park

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USA TODAY Sports

PIC: Adrian Peterson has arrived at Redskins Park

With Derrius Guice out for the season and Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall both sustaining injuries during the Redskins' Week 2 preseason game vs. the Jets, the Burgundy and Gold may be in need of some help at running back. Enter seven-time Pro Bowler Adrian Peterson.

One of the best running backs to ever play the game, Peterson has rushed for 12,276 yards and 99 touchdowns over a 11-year career.

Peterson's visit is part of the team's contingency plan if they do indeed become very thing at the running back position. Jamaal Charles and Orleans Darkwa have also been at Redskins Park for visits. 

"Well we want to bring them in to get physicals on them just in case,” said Gruden.  

Nonetheless, the thought of having Adrian Peterson in a Redskins uniform is exciting. 

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Alex Smith believes that his Redskins teammates are 'all in'

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Associated Press

Alex Smith believes that his Redskins teammates are 'all in'

During the offseason program and training camp we have seen ample evidence that Alex Smith’s teammates have great respect for their new quarterback. Speaking to the media on Sunday, Smith said that the respect is mutual. 

While saying that, nobody really knows how the team will respond when the games count and the pressure is on, but Smith likes what he has seen so far. 

“I think we’ve got guys that are all in,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys that are committed, and I don’t think that’s the case everywhere. I think a lot of times it’s easy not to invest because it’s scary to put yourself out there knowing you might not succeed. I think we’ve got a bunch of guys who are all in, really invested in what we’re doing here, and I think that’s all you can ask for. We’ve got a tough team that’s not afraid of competition, not afraid to toe the line. I think that’s been apparent through camp. Like I said, the proof’s in the pudding. You’ve got to go do it when it really matters.”

Of course, it’s smart to be complimentary of your new teammates when you are under contract with the organization for the next five years, and Smith is nothing if not smart. Still, Smith didn’t seem to be blowing smoke when he talked about how he formed his opinion about the team. 

“I think it’s an accumulation going back to April up to this date,” said Smith. “It’s how he conducts himself, how he carries himself in the locker room, in the film room, in the training room, in the weight room, on the practice field, when you’re in camp riding the shuttle bus together. I mean, you can tell, I think, how invested guys are. You can tell who’s real, who’s authentic. That quickly becomes apparent when you put all those things together. You can see what guys are really made of and who’s faking it. We’ve got a bunch of guys that are all in.”

For the last several years, the Redskins have talked a lot about drafting and signing players with character, guys who as Smith put it are “all in”. They haven’t always hit the mark, but they have collected players like Brandon Scherff, Jonathan Allen, Josh Norman, and others who love the game more than they love what they can get from the game (i.e. a big paycheck). 

To be sure, dysfunction involving players is not entirely a thing of the past. There has been occasional drama such as the sudden Su’a Cravens departure last year, but most NFL team have occasional situations and the Redskins are not one of the teams frequently making headlines for the wrong reasons. 

Smith is another one of those high character guys and he is recognizing that in the approach of many of his teammates. 

This all sounds great in August and, as Smith noted, we won’t really know how the high character will translate when they’re in a tight game during the season. But for right now, it’s good that the quarterback has confidence in his teammates and that could count for something when the chips are down in December. 

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler