As Mike Shanahan, Jim Haslett and the Washington Redskins entered Year 2 of the 3-4 defense, they identified nose tackle as a key need in free agency, and signed Barry Cofield for a six-year, $36-million contract.
This season has been a learning experience for Cofield, who spent the first five seasons of his career as a tackle in the New York Giants’ 4-3 defense. But Cofield has embraced the challenge of mastering the position change, although it has meant a decrease in his personal stats.
In today’s Gameday Q&A, the Cleveland native talks about the mental and physical adjustments he has made, his goals for the Redskins’ defense, his love for Cleveland’s sports teams and his music tastes.
Talk about the transition you’ve made since coming from the Giants to the Redskins and settling in with a new team, new system and new area.
“I feel real good about it. I’ve come a long way, but I feel like with a full offseason and OTAs, things like that, I’ll take another step in Year 2, and I feel the same way about the whole defense. I feel like we’re real close. Honestly. I might have been down some times this year, after certain losses, but right now, I feel like we’re very close to being a very good defense. We’ve got a couple holes, and we’re not consistent enough, but the future’s real bright. We’re able to keep most of our guys together, maybe add a piece here and there, and I think we’re able to be a top 10, top five defense next year.
How different is the mindset you have to have as a nose-tackle opposed to a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense, whose role is to get after the quarterback?
“It’s definitely different. You’ve got to learn to put yourself second. You’ve got to learn not to check the stat sheets. I’m a guy who’s used to having 40, 50 tackles, but it’s just not going to happen in this defense. You’ve got to live through other guys. London [Fletcher] is leading the league in tackles. So I know I’m doing something right. So, you’ve got to put yourself, put your stats second, and just embrace the challenge, embrace the physicality, embrace the double-teams. There’s a lot that goes into it. If you can master it, you’ll earn a lot of respect, and that’s my plan.”
When did you first realize that you were going to have to take on that type of mindset, and why was that something you wanted to do?
“As soon as I first learned the Redskins were interested in me. I knew what the job would entail. I’ve always liked the 3-4 defense. I like the different looks that you can give. So many of the great defenses of all time are 3-4 defenses. So I looked forward to that. You’ve got to have the right pieces and we’re very close to having that. Just the payoff of having a top defense – being in that top 5 – which was my goal in coming here, it’ll all be worth it.
With you not getting as many sacks, people haven’t seen you break out the “Taser dance.” Do you miss breaking that out? Is it retired?
“I don’t know. When you least expect it is when it’s going to come out. We’ve got to be winning. I’m not going to break it out if we’re losing. The less appearances it makes, the more people want it, so I think it’s going to be like a rare occurrence. It’s definitely not retired. I can’t wait to get a sack, or make a big play with us in the lead, and the fans are excited, and then I’ll break it out and it’ll all be worth the wait.”
Now, you lead the league’s linemen with eight deflected passes. What’s the key to that?
“Some of it’s luck, but a lot of it is our defensive line coach [Jacob Burney], he coaches us to do that. We’re asked to play the run first and you’ve got a balanced stance, and being in the 3-4, you’re not going to get the greatest pass rush all the time. But if you can push that pocket, get your hands up, a batted pass definitely ticks the offensive line off and frustrates the quarterback. It’s definitely something I’ve tried to do, to get my hands on some balls. One of them led to an interception, so it definitely leads to some good things.
What’s something about Barry Cofield that not a lot of people know?
“That’s always a tough question. Biggest thing, people know you’re a football player, and know you like football, but I’m just a sports fan in general. I like soccer, baseball, you’ll catch me watching women’s volleyball, women’s basketball. I love all sports. I’m as big a fan as the average fan. The average fan of the Redskins, I’m that big of a fan of other sports, of the Cleveland Cavs, Cleveland Indians. I love sports and love Northwestern, and I watch and appreciate all sports. So that’s a little tid-bit.”
So did it hurt for you when LeBron James left the Cavaliers for Miami?
“It hurt. It hurt bad. It cut me deep. It took me a year to recover. But I’m back on Team LeBron, man. The first season afterwards, I was hurt. My feelings. It was just such a great time in Cleveland when he was there, the Cavs were playing good, it was a lot of fun to go to the games. But, obviously, I was a free agent and I did what I had to do, so I definitely understand him. [Said with a laugh]. But he’s just a once-in-a-generation type athlete, so it was just great to have him playing for the home team. Hopefully the Cavs can get back on the winning track with a new crop of guys, with Kyrie Irving, with Tristan Thompson.”
I guess getting that top pick in the lottery helped ease some of the pain, huh?
“Yeah, getting the No. 1 and the No. 4 pick. I was extremely excited. Hopefully it helps the city move on. I’m a big fan, but I wasn’t one of the jersey-burning crazy fans, I understood the decision. I was hurt to see him leave, but I still respect him as a player, and I’m still proud of him, coming from Akron, coming from Ohio. But getting those high draft picks, people can stop the Lebron hating and get back to the Cavs loving.”
Pre-game, do you have a special meal you eat or routine that you always have to go through?
“I don’t really like to eat before the game. I hate to eat before the game. I’m just usually eating some pasta, some potatoes. Just some starches, some carbs for energy. And routine, it’s usually just a hot shower, music and prayer.”
What’s in your iPod for that pre-game listening?
“Lately it’s been some Watch the Throne and some of J. Cole’s new album. And then I definitely go back to some older stuff, some 50 Cent [At that point, fellow defensive lineman Stephen Bowen cuts Cofield off and says, “And he’s got some Taylor Swift.” Cofield laughs, but doesn’t deny and continues talking.] Music that makes you want to run through a wall. That’s usually it. But Watch the Throne is great. I loved it off the jump. I think Jay-Z is one of the greatest of all time, and Kanye’s one of my favorites right now, so it was like the Super Bowl and Game 7 of the NBA Finals being on the same day. It’s no way they could go wrong, and I love what they did.”