Nose tackle and outside linebacker are the key positions in a 3-4 defense. Nose tackles must engage centers and prevent them from blocking inside linebackers (it’s called getting to the second level of the defense). Defensive ends take on tackles, freeing outside linebackers to rush the quarterback and pursue ballcarriers on outside running plays.
In a 4-3 defense, with four linemen instead of three, defensive tackles and ends can become stars. They have more leeway to freelance and chase the quarterback.
Sure, Cofield and Bowen would enjoy a little star treatment. Who wouldn’t? But they’re most interested in winning.
“We know we’re the workhorses and we’re not going to get all the credit. That’s just the way it is,” Bowen said. “It’s our job is to make sure the linebackers flow easy and make the plays. When that happens, and it’s happening a lot, that’s what you take a lot of pride in. That’s when you know you’re doing your job.”
Cofield and Bowen have done their jobs well since joining Washington in free agency before the 2011 season. This season, they expected to shoulder more responsibility for the defense’s performance. They didn’t, however, envision losing veteran defensive end Adam Carriker for the season in the second game.
Second-year defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, still regaining form after sitting out the 2011 season because of a knee injury, took Carriker’s place in the starting lineup. Cofield and Bowen became mentors to Jenkins.
His improved play (he has nine pressures) during Washington’s surge reflects well on Cofield and Bowen. They have led by example as well as provided Jenkins with hands-on tutoring on how to best use his hands to fend off blockers. Teammates have noticed their effective teaching methods.
“You can just look at what they do, how they approach their jobs, and realize they do it the right way,” outside linebacker Rob Jackson said. “When younger guys have to step up, you want them to learn from the right guys. You couldn’t pick two better guys to do that.”
Every good team needs unsung heroes. That’s what Cofield and Bowen are for the Redskins. And although Cofield and Bowen enjoy the title, there’s a better one they soon hope to add: division champion.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.