Barry Cofield has become more disruptive in his third season as a nose tackle. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Now in his third season as the centerpiece of the Washington Redskins’ 3-4 defensive front, nose tackle Barry Cofield has gotten off to a strong start, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett believes that the eighth-year veteran has distinguished himself as the best in the game at his position.

Cofield signed with the Redskins as a free agent in 2010, coming to Washington from New York, where he had played defensive tackle in the Giants’ 4-3 front. He’d never played nose tackle in the NFL, but had a bit of experience at that spot from his college days at Northwestern. The Redskins still believed that he had the combination of smarts, strength and athleticism to make the transition, however.

That first season in Washington served as on-the-job training for Cofield. He displayed improved comfort season last year, and entered this season aiming to go from solid to dominant.

Haslett says Cofield has done just that.

“I think Barry is the best nose tackle in the league because he can do a little bit of everything,” Haslett said. “He’s good on the run, he’s powerful, he’s strong, he’s a good pass-rusher. He’s relentless. I think that combination makes him the best. He’s not, maybe 350 pounds. He’s 315, 316-17 pounds, but I think he’s ideal for what we’re doing with him.”

Haslett’s praise came two days after the Redskins got their first win of the season against the Raiders. Cofield had a career day, recording two sacks, two tackles and a fumble recovery. That outburst came a week after Cofield shed the club cast that he had worn to protect a fractured right hand in the first two games of the season.

“If a nose tackle gets two sacks in this league? That’s outstanding,” Haslett said. “Most noses don’t play on third down. Barry plays on third down. His first game, with the cast on, he didn’t play as well. But after that, he’s been outstanding. He was exceptional last week.”

Cofield last season recorded 36 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble, and he also deflected six passes at the line. This season, he has nine tackles in four games, which would again put him on pace for 36 for the season – which is a good number considering the nose tackle’s role largely is to clog running lanes and create gaps for the linebackers to shoot into and make tackles and sacks. Cofield has started getting to quarterbacks with greater frequency, however. He already has two sacks, and through four games, he also has recorded another six hits on the quarterback.

Haslett predicts that the strides made by Cofield will lead to the Redskins’ defense getting back on track and building on Sunday’s outing against the Raiders.

“There are some plays when you watch the tape, there are some plays you’ll see guys trying to cut him and he’s so athletic that they can’t get him down,” Haslett said. “He’s the reason – you have to have two outside linebackers and a nose – and he’s the reason everything goes.”