By Tarik El-Bashir
Although Barry Cofield was frequently praised by Redskins coaches last season, the veteran defensive lineman acknowledged Friday that he was disappointed in his 2011 campaign and enters this season expecting more from himself – on the field and in the locker room.
“Honestly, I go back and review myself last year and I’ve played a lot better than that,” Cofield said. “I wasn’t happy with the way I played.”
Cofield finished fifth on the team in sacks with three and 15th in solo tackles with 15. At times, though, he conceded that was not completely comfortable lining up at a new position, in a new scheme he had yet to fully grasp.
“By the time I left New York, everything was second nature. People had to catch up with me,” said Cofield, who signed with the Redskins as a free agent in July 2011. “Last year, I felt like I was playing catch up.”
The lockout and being a free agent contributed to his trepidation. So did the unexpected position switch he had to make; before signing in Washington, Cofield had spent his entire five-season NFL career lining up as a tackle in the Giants’ 4-3 scheme.
Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett asked him to play nose tackle in his 3-4 base alignment.
“I didn’t know if I was going to go to a team where I was going to be getting up the field, or I was going to be a 3-4 end, a 3-4 nose,” he said. “I had no idea, so I didn’t know how to train. I was just trying to be in shape.”
“But now,” he continued, “knowing what kind of blocking schemes I’m going to see, I was able to take a different approach this offseason.”
That approach involved working his core and leg muscles. The team roster now has him at 318 lb., 12 pounds heavier than last year’s listing.
It also involved studying Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton on film.
“He’s kind of the godfather of the nose tackle position as we play it today,” Cofield said of Hampton, a five-time Pro Bowl selection. “He did some things better than me, and there are some things that I can do with my natural ability, with my athleticism, [things] I can bring to the position that not a lot of other guys do. So it’s just getting better at everything and have everything be second nature.”
Although creating havoc in the backfield isn’t a nose tackle’s primary responsibility in Haslett’s playbook – that would be keeping middle linebacker London Fletcher “clean” – the coaching staff has incorporated some tweaks that should complement Cofield’s athleticism and allow him to “make a few more big plays” this fall.
“We’re doing some things differently up front that are hopefully going to get the nose tackle some one-on-ones, to be able to push the pocket and harass the quarterback and even get some sacks,” he said. “Last year, I had two three sacks, that’s not far off for a nose tackle, but with the skill set I have, I can improve. I want to get a couple more.”
On the field, however, isn’t the only place where Cofield wants to be more assertive this season. He also wants to make a stronger impact in the locker room.
During his time in New York, Cofield was considered among the team’s most respected leaders. Now he’s growing into the role here.
“That changed by the end of last year,” Cofield said. “I actually spoke to the team when we played that second Giants game, and I felt right then, the words I said, the positive response I got from the guys, they wanted to hear more from me. I feel like I am in a position where guys respect me and look up to me at this point.”