In His Third Season, Barry Cofield In The Middle Of It All
Finally comfortable and understanding of his responsibilities within the defense, the nose tackle has been so productive this season defensive coordinator Jim Haslett considers him the best in the league.
BY ZAC BOYER
ASHBURN – Last presented with a leadership opportunity when he was voted captain during his senior year at Northwestern in 2005, nose tackle Barry Cofield has been particularly stricken each of the last two seasons after his Redskins teammates bestowed that honor upon him.
Cofield, entering his eighth season, had been considered a voice of reason within the Redskins’ locker room after leaving the Giants to sign a six-year, $36 million contract in 2011. Being given such a formal honor, though, has motivated him to play at what may be his finest season thus far.
Through four games, Cofield has been every bit the run-stopper he’s expected to be within the Redskins’ three-man defensive front, even after breaking his right hand during the preseason and being forced to wear a bulky, hard-cast club.
Yet against the Raiders on Sept. 29, Cofield was highly involved in the passing game as well, routinely collapsing the pocket and sacking quarterback Matt Flynn twice.
“Basically, when these guys voted me captain, I put a lot of pressure on myself from that point on, and that’s why it was never an option when I broke my hand to not be out there,” Cofield said. “That’s a distinction that I take personally.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has praised Cofield’s improvement since the nose tackle joined the Redskins, going so far as to proclaim him the best player in the league at the position on many occasions this season.
For Haslett, it was important to find a player like Cofield who could fit in the confines of the 3-4 system – one where he’s not merely eating blocks from offensive linemen, but being aggressive in helping with a pass rush.
“I think that’s kind of what you build your defense from,” Haslett said Thursday. “You see all these teams that run a 3-4 – Kansas City drafts [Dontari] Poe from Memphis in the first round [last year]. You know, Casey Hampton was with Pittsburgh all those years; Joel Steed before that. I think they had two nose guards for the last 20 years.
“That’s kind of the guy that you build it around. You’d like to have a guy that can handle the middle because he’s the guy that stops the runs from tackle to tackle, and then obviously, if he can do other things besides that, that’s a plus.”
Cofield’s two sacks against the Raiders – not surprisingly, a career high – were different. In the third quarter, outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan were able to power through the Raiders’ offensive tackles as Cofield was blocked by center Stefan Wisniewski and left guard Andre Gurode. Wisniewski peeled off when defensive end Stephen Bowen twisted inside, allowing Cofield to beat Gurode and drop Flynn for a 6-yard loss.
His second sack came early in the fourth quarter and was aided by the Redskins’ pass coverage downfield. Flynn pump-faked a throw and hesitated, and after he stepped up in the pocket when Kerrigan got past right tackle Tony Pashos, Cofield was able to shed his block by right guard Mike Brisiel and pull down Flynn from behind.
“I think he’s just more comfortable with what he’s doing in the defense,” Bowen said. “He takes advantage of his one-on-ones. Most centers are pretty much the worst protectors, and he knows that. He exploits them.”
There were occasions last season when Cofield would watch tape of games from 2011 and he would feel embarrassed by his performance. Signing so late after the lockout not only hindered his ability to learn the position, but it prevented him from being the disruptive force on the offensive line that he knew he could be.
Now, he’s fulfilling the hopes he had for himself.
“Playing well helps the team, so it’s like you kill two birds with one stone – you’re recognized as the best, and if we can make this defense the best, then I’ll truly be happy,” Cofield said.
➤ A version of this story appears in Friday’s edition of The Free Lance-Star.