Tackle is comfortable in the middle of the line
ASHBURN -- Barry Cofield played the position last season. He didn't always understand the position. So he made plays at times, corrected mistakes on the fly and awaited the offseason. And then he started to learn even more about the spot he had played for several months.
It's one reason the Redskins are excited about what their front seven -- and, in turn, their defense -- can accomplish this season. If Cofield improves the way the Redskins hope, there should be a trickle-down effect. The run defense will improve, and the linebackers will make more tackles closer to the line of scrimmage.
Not that Cofield struggled last season. He provided an athletic presence in the middle, at times getting back into plays even after being blocked. But he also admitted that he would see a different blocking philosophy each week. And he wouldn't always know how to counter or react. He was never fully comfortable.
"I can't really say last year that I reached that point," Cofield said. "I feel I had more to do this offseason. Right now I can play nose tackle. It took me a full year, a full offseason of learning and studying, and right now I feel comfortable."
Cofield studied Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton, whom he considers the godfather of nose tackles. Cofield watched tape of himself as well.
Playing in a 4-3, as Cofield did for five seasons, required a different mindset and footwork. Typically in a 4-3, a defensive lineman's first step is upfield, with the goal of making plays in the backfield. In a 3-4, his goal is to occupy linemen, and his first step is lateral.
"I feel like I saw it all last year," Cofield said. "I don't think anything will catch me off guard. I'm excited. I feel I've grown a lot."
He also hopes that he has added flexibility by taking yoga and Pilates classes.
"The older you get, the more you have to focus on getting in shape and staying flexible and being strong at the same time," he said. "It's not a sumo fight up there. I want to use my quickness and natural ability. A lot of times you're getting double-teamed, and you have to be able to bend and contort and do everything it takes to keep [linebacker] London Fletcher clean so he can make 200 tackles."
That athleticism and improved knowledge of the position is what excites the Redskins' coaches. They envision Cofield being more consistent at clogging the middle. They also anticipate his ability to make more plays.
"I'm looking forward to that as well, this over 300-pound guy running sideline to sideline making plays," defensive line coach Jacob Burney said.
The more Cofield diversifies his game, the better the defense will become.
"We would like to have him play with a little more power because he is a powerful guy, but he is athletic," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "So he can do whatever we ask him to do. If he can play with power, he can play with power. If needs to play with athleticism, he can play with athleticism. He knows the scheme well, so I know he is looking for big things."