Last season’s addition of nose tackle Barry Cofield to the Washington Redskins’ defense was a significant factor in the unit’s jump from 31st in the NFL in 2010 to 13th in 2011.
Signed away from the New York Giants to play what defensive coordinator Jim Haslett considers the most important position in his 3-4 defense, Cofield appeared to make a smooth transition in Washington.
With Cofield disrupting opposing offensive lines and taking on double-teams, linebackers were able to fly to the ball more freely, the team’s sacks total increased and London Fletcher recorded a career-high – and NFL-leading – 166 tackles.
“Barry did a lot of great things for us last year,” second-year outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “It’s not something a lot of fans will notice because the stats aren’t always going to come to the nose tackle, but the way he plays, and the way he freed up London, I only expect more great things out of Barry this year.”
But Cofield, who found himself learning on the fly as he played the position for the first time in his career (he had always been a 4-3 defensive tackle), has mixed feelings about his play.
Although encouraged, the seventh-year pro believes he could have done better in a lot of areas. He is hoping that the familiarity that comes with a second year in the system helps him play faster and more instinctively.
“I go back and watch a lot of Casey Hampton Steelers tape throughout the years,” said Cofield, who made 26 tackles, had three sacks and led the defensive linemen with six deflected passes. “He’s kind of the godfather of the nose tackle position as we play it today and he did it well. He did some things better than me and there are some things that I can do with my natural ability, with my athleticism, that I bring to the position that not a lot of other guys can do. So it’s just getting better at everything and have everything be second-nature.”
Over the offseason, Cofield maintained frequent contact with Haslett and defensive line coach Jacob Burney. He picked their brains on adjustments he needed to make.
The changes, both as a player and leader, have begun to show though the Redskins are only three days into training camp.
“I think Barry feels a lot more comfortable this year with our scheme and therefore his leadership has shown up more than a year ago because he’s more confident with the people around him, the supporting cast,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said.
As a result, Cofield believes he will make a more significant impact this year. He acknowledges that some of his contributions will come behind the scenes and some of his contributions may go unnoticed by the casual observer. That’s just fine with him.
“Realistically it’s not going to be a ton of big plays. That’s just not what the position entails,” Cofield said.
He likened his job like that of a center for the quarterback, “My job’s to keep London clean.”
He continued. “The one thing that I do rest on from last year is that London led the league in tackles and made it to the Pro Bowl. He obviously appreciated the work I did up front, but I just feel like I can do it better. I feel like I can make a few more big plays. I feel like I can be in the quarterback’s face. We’re doing some things differently up front that are going to hopefully get the nose tackle some one-on-ones to be able to push the pocket and harass quarterbacks and even get some sacks.
“Last year I think I had two, three sacks. That’s not horrible for a nose tackle, but I feel like with the skillset I have I can improve and I want to get a couple more.”
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