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Redskins’ Defenders Pray Experience Will Pay In Making Adjustments

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com

This story appeared on page B1 of Thursday’s Free Lance-Star.

ASHBURN–Barry Cofield can already hear the strumming of the ukuleles and taste the sweetness of the pineapple drink underneath a tiny pink umbrella as he reclines on a beach in Hawaii the last week of January.

The Pro Bowl will be held that final weekend, but that’s not necessarily something Cofield, the Washington Redskins’ new nose tackle, will be concerned with attending.

In his dream scenario, Cofield just wants all expenses paid for by a particular teammate.

“I want London Fletcher to have 200 tackles, and hopefully he’ll go to the Pro Bowl and throw me a ticket so I can fly with him,” Cofield said yesterday at Redskins Park. “It’s not about the glory as a nose tackle in the 3-4. It’s about the team success, and that’s my job.”

If Fletcher makes it to the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive season, Cofield hopes he’ll be part of the reason. The 6-foot-4, 306-pound lineman was one of the key pieces the Redskins signed during the abbreviated free agency period to help give life to a sagging defense.

Cofield, who spent the previous five seasons with the New York Giants and signed a six-year, $36 million contract in late July, hadn’t played in a 3-4 defense before now. But he’s confident that the transition, however brief it has been, is something he can handle.

That may be ambitious. When the Redskins switched to the scheme before last season after the hiring of coach Mike Shanahan, several players had trouble adapting. That meant the Redskins finished second-to-last in the NFL with 389.2 yards allowed per game and were in the bottom half of the league in points allowed and interceptions.

“I think we’re light-years ahead,” said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. “I think guys are understanding the concepts that coaches are teaching now. You’re working on the little details so that we can have more interceptions and more turnovers because last year we kind of fell off in the second half of the season.”

The Redskins also added defensive end Stephen Bowen, brought over from Dallas, and selected outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan in the first round of April’s draft. They even revamped their secondary with the additions of cornerback Josh Wilson, the former Maryland standout who played last season in Baltimore, and free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, formerly of St. Louis.

LaRon Landry, out of action because of an injury to his left Achilles’ tendon sustained midway through last season, hopes to return by the season opener Sept. 11 against the Giants to reclaim his starting role at strong safety.

That means the Redskins have gone through training camp without seeing how their remodeled secondary will come together.

“I’m not worried about it,” said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. “I’ve been around [Atogwe] enough to know that when we play, he’ll be ready to go. The same thing with LaRon. I’m looking forward to someday having that whole group together.”

The cohesion helps. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall expects simple familiarity with the system and with each other to assist in improving upon last year. The way he sees it, the additions to the defense, the time spent learning the 3-4 scheme and an understanding of the coaches’ duties should make progress inevitable.

“We’ve got a feel for them in game situations and they’ve probably got a feel for us, so [we're] a lot more comfortable, a lot more relaxed and ready to go,” Hall said.

Fletcher, who led the group with 136 tackles last season, has noticed a difference–not only in the commitment and ability, but also the way the team interacts.

For Fletcher, the middle linebacker, communication is key. He plans to increase his responsibility by being more conversational with his teammates on the field and through a greater understanding of each player’s role.

“It’s just about all of us being on the same page, talking, letting everybody know who’s in coverage, what your responsibility [is] and where you have to be,” Fletcher said.

If all works out, he’ll also hold up his end of the bargain by bringing Cofield along with him to Honolulu.

“If that’s the case, oh yeah, I’d get him two first-class tickets to Hawaii,” Fletcher said.

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