The Washington Redskins have yet to play their first preseason game, but inside linebacker London Fletcher can see what new nose tackle Barry Cofield can do for the defense this season.

Fletcher has noticed that in the 11-on-11 portions of practice, he encounters blockers more infrequently. Instead, they are tied up trying to hold off Cofield, double- and sometimes triple-teaming him to do so. As a result, Fletcher has more open lanes into the backfield and thus, more opportunities to make plays.

“Don’t let [blockers] get to me,” Fletcher said with a laugh. “It’s not going to be where [Cofield] is going to have a bunch of tackles, and people are saying this or that. He don’t need a bunch of tackles. Leave those for me.”

That’s how Jim Haslett’s 3-4 defense was supposed to operate last season. But Albert Haynesworth didn’t want to do his part, Ma’ake Kemoeatu wasn’t effective in his first season back from a 2009 Achilles’ tendon surgery, and the defensive line as a whole didn’t control the line of scrimmage as well as it should have. So big plays were harder to come by for Fletcher and his fellow linebackers.

Fletcher still recorded a team-high 136 tackles in 2010, but the 36-year-old expects that tally to increase, thanks to Cofield, fellow free agent addition Stephen Bowen and rookie defensive end Jarvis Jenkins. Fletcher went so far as to say, he expects this year’s defense to be drastically improved.

“Last season, “with ‘Kemo,’ he just wasn’t healthy. Coming off that Achilles, it was tough on him,” Fletcher said of Kemoeatu, whom Washington cut the first day of training camp. “But Barry’s a real good player, he wants to do it. And [Bowen] is a big-bodied, big powerful guy. Jenkins has really impressed so far in practice. He’s a young, baby-faced kid, but he plays with some intensity and some passion.”