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After A Year In The System, Barry Cofield Focused On Adjustments
ASHBURN – Change can be difficult, especially for a player who was asked to change positions after he had spent his entire career in one city.
Barry Cofield started all but two games during his five seasons with the New York Giants and found it difficult to leave the team for the Washington Redskins last summer. He was set in his ways as a defensive tackle – a position that came instinctually to him, but one he couldn’t play in the Redskins’ 3-4 base defense – and cautiously approached what he assumed would be an awkward transition to nose tackle.
“By the time I left New York, everything was second nature,” Cofield said Saturday. “I feel like people had to catch up with me. Last year, I felt like I was playing catch-up, and I can already see a difference [this year] from the beginning of camp.”
Cofield’s defensive coaches complimented his performance throughout last season, especially for a player who had no familiarity with such a rigorous position. His own standards were higher, though, and when defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and defensive line coach Jacob Burney passed along praise from opposing coaches, Cofield wanted nothing to do with it.
His biggest fear was complacency. If he believed he was a quality nose tackle in his first year of learning the position, he’d be less inclined to get better.
“I just feel like I can do it better,” Cofield said. “I feel like I can make a few more big plays. I feel like I can be in the quarterback’s face. We’re doing some things differently up front that’s hopefully going to get the nose tackle some one-on-ones, to be able to push the pocket and harass quarterbacks and even get some sacks.
“Last year, I think had two, three sacks. That’s not far off for a nose tackle, but I feel like with the skill set I have I can improve – and I want to get a couple more.”
Cofield also believes his development shouldn’t be restricted to football. Well-spoken and intelligent, he began to embrace a greater role as a team leader near the end of last season – a role he held in New York, but one he didn’t want to assume as a first-year player.
He spoke to his teammates before the Redskins’ opener against the Giants last season because of his connection to both teams, but remained largely silent until the teams met again in mid-December.
“He called the guys up and talked about playing physical, playing hard, playing fast, and just going out and playing winning football,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “Guys hung on to every word he said.”
Head coach Mike Shanahan was aware of Cofield’s reputation as a leader while in New York, and he hoped throughout last season his extroverted personality would begin to come forward.
“You don’t really ask a guy to be vocal or speak a certain way,” Shanahan said. “They’ve got a way of handling themselves, and Barry is a guy that is very respected on this football team. When you have guys that work that hard and guys that make plays, you’re hoping that they develop as one of the team leaders.”
Cofield also worked on core and leg strength during the offseason to improve his explosiveness off the line, and he watched film of Pittsburgh’s Casey Hampton, who he called “the godfather of the nose tackle position,” for guidance.
He has also developed a friendship with Fletcher, and took it as a point of pride that Fletcher earned a trip to his third consecutive Pro Bowl and finished with a league-high 166 tackles.
“We talk a lot of football,” Cofield said. “We talk a lot just in general. Nose tackle and middle linebacker, we’re almost like a center and quarterback. It’s my job to keep him clean, and the more success he has, I take pride in that. Our relationship has grown, as has the whole defense. For that reason, I think we should be more productive this year.”