Barry Cofield: Washington Redskins Nose Tackle Is Set for a Breakout Year
The Washington Redskins defense needs nose tackle Barry Cofield to have a breakout season in the middle of their 3-4 defense. Cofield is entering his second year as a 3-4 nose tackle and needs to join the ranks of the elite at his particular position.
The 28-year-old spent his first five seasons as a 4-3 defensive tackle for NFC East rival the New York Giants. Yet Cofield made a quick transition to the notoriously difficult to grasp requirements of a 2-gap 3-4 front.
In the 4-3, Cofield often operated in a shade technique and was charged with attacking gaps and gaining penetration. The Redskins asked him to make a subtle, but still significant change to his playing style.
Asked to play head-up on the center, Cofield had to take on his blocker directly and control both A-gaps. In Washington's scheme, he has to plug the middle and preferably draw double-teams, while not getting forced back.
For the most part, Cofield's first season in this new role was a success. He began slowly and split time during the first few games of the season with seventh-round draft choice Chris Neild.
Gradually, Cofield established himself as a force at the heart the Redskins improving defense. He finished with 25 tackles and three sacks—far from a terrible return for a nose tackle.
Cofield was outstanding in the Week 15 manhandling of the New York Giants—probably the Redskins' best performance of the season. He dominated the interior of Big Blue's offensive front and showed how critical he has become to the success of the Washington defense.
While London Fletcher is an outstanding player no matter the scheme, it's no coincidence he was able to lead the league in tackles at age 36. Fletcher certainly benefited from Cofield's growing ability to control the middle and occupy blockers.
Cofield has always been a force against the run and his progression will be key to solidifying Washington's 18th-ranked run defense. If there is one area where Cofield needs to refine his technique, it is leverage.
The 3-4 pivot men rely on leverage, but at 6'4" Cofield can sometimes be guilty of playing a little too naturally upright in his stance. His height does help him be more a asset on pass plays than most nose tackles, evidenced by eight pass breakups in 2011.
However, generating push on the pocket and locking up interior offensive linemen remains Cofield's priority. Working on his takeoff and playing a little lower can make Cofield harder to move and put centers back on their heels.
In December, the Washington Post reported that Jim Haslett and Mike Shanahan both feel Cofield is ready to excel at his new position. The 3-4 scheme both men implemented in 2010 will only produce an elite defense if Cofield becomes one of the league's best nose tackles.
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