(photo by Brian Murphy)
The 2011 season was an up-and-down campaign for Washington Redskins defensive tackle Barry Cofield. While he was happy to come to Washington and take on a more vocal leadership role with his new team, he also had to learn a new position and suffer through a disappointing 5-11 season.
One year later, things look much better for the future of the Redskins, as far as Cofield is concerned. Not only did the franchise make the bold decision to trade several high draft picks for the right to select Robert Griffin III in the 2012 NFL Draft, but just as importantly to the nose tackle, they didnít make any sweeping changes to the defenseís front seven.
With that type of continuity, Cofield is confident the defense front is capable of great things in Ď12.
ďIíve got big aspirations,Ē he said. ďI donít feel like weíre a rebuilding team. I donít feel like weíre a team thatís a year away. Weíre ready to compete this year, and the goal is to win and be a playoff team this year. We want to win every game we play. On defense, weíve got guys who have spent a year together now. Weíve got veteran guys. Weíve got leaders and weíve got some really talented players.Ē
As far as head coach Mike Shanahan is concerned, Cofield is definitely someone who falls into the talented veteran player category.
ďWith Barry, it was probably just an adjustment mentally, mindset-wise, of going from a 4-3 one-gap defense to being a 3-4 nose tackle,Ē said Shanahan. ďItís a totally different mindset where itís not just run gap, Ďtake that gapí stuff like that. Itís a little bit more running sideways, stuff like that, keeping the linemen off the linebackers, realizing that youíre probably not going to be making a ton of plays. So as a guy you kind of have to change your thought process, but I thought he did great with it.Ē
So while casual sports fans might look at the box score and not see monster numbers next to Cofieldís name, his coaches and teammates know that his impact on a game goes far beyond a box score. Linebacker Perry Riley, for example, said when the guys up front are doing their jobs, the middle linebackers ďpretty much run around free.Ē
ďRealistically itís not going to be a ton of big plays,Ē Cofield said. ďThatís just not what the position entails. The one thing that I do rest on from last year is that [middle linebacker] London [Fletcher] led the league in tackles and made it to the Pro Bowl. He obviously appreciated the work I did up front, but I just feel like I can do it better. I feel like I can make a few more big plays. I feel like I can be in the quarterbackís face.
ďWeíre doing some things differently up front that are going to hopefully get the nose tackle some one-on-ones to be able to push the pocket and harass quarterbacks and even get some sacks,Ē he added. ďLast year I think I had two, three sacks. Thatís not horrible 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.Ē
While the defense has made some subtle changes this offseason, itís not like these players are having to learn an entirely new system. Cofield, for one, believes having a year under his belt is only going to make him more effective in Washington.
ďI think itíll make a huge difference,Ē said Cofield. ďHonestly, I go back and review myself last year and Iíve played a lot better than that. It was a growing process. I gave myself some leeway for that, but having a true offseason this year, being able to watch a lot of tape and do all the learning and having this training camp and us as a unit.
ďThe great thing is that they brought [defensive end] Adam [Carriker] back,Ē he continued. ďI think that did a lot for continuity. Then you add [defensive end Jarvis] Jenkins back into the mix and Chris Neild played well. Weíve got a lot of guys and I think our depth is going to be surprising to a lot of people.Ē
Itís understandable that some players are going to be tougher on themselves than others, but is there a specific aspect of Cofieldís game that he felt like should have been better last season?
ďNothing specific, just doing everything better,Ē Cofield said. ďI go back and watch a lot of Casey Hampton Steelers tape throughout the years. Heís kind of the godfather of the nose tackle position as we play it today and he did it well. He did some things better than me and there are some things that I can do with my natural ability, with my athleticism, that I bring to the position that not a lot of other guys can do. So itís just getting better at everything and have everything be second-nature. By the time I left New York, everything was second nature. People had to catch up with me. Last year, I felt like I was playing catch-up. I can already see a difference in the beginning of camp.Ē
Shanahan said he can already tell that Cofield feels more comfortable with what heís being asked to do this year, compared to last season when the 28-year-old was transitioning into his new role.
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