- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

To say 2010 was a lost season for the Washington Redskins‘ defensive line would be a huge understatement. Albert Haynesworth again was supposed to be the big man in the middle, but myriad problems limited him to eight games as his team limped to a 6-10 finish.

Haynesworth is gone, his mammoth seven-year, $100 million contract from 2009 jettisoned to make way for someone - anyone - to fill his spot. But the Redskins consider themselves fortunate that among a host of new faces they picked up during roster roulette in the days after the lockout, they didn’t just get anyone as a new nose tackle.

They got Barry Cofield — a player with leadership skills who not only fits coordinator Jim Haslett’s scheme better but allows the Redskins to do much more on the defensive side of the ball.

“Coach Haslett has a great plan, and I think this year we have a lot of the pieces for him to work with,” Cofield said. “The Skins did a great job of acquiring talent; now it’s our job to go out and execute.”

On defense, Washington is expected to have five new starters: Cofield at nose tackle, Stephen Bowen at defensive end, first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan at outside linebacker, Josh Wilson at cornerback and Oshiomogho Atogwe at free safety. On offense, there will be a new starter at quarterback (Rex Grossman) and running back (Tim Hightower).

But the addition of Cofield could be the biggest splash the Redskins made — even though the six-year deal is worth just over a third of Haynesworth’s at $36 million and because the 27-year-old isn’t hyped as the greatest defensive player available. Instead, Cofield calls himself an “undersized” nose tackle even at 6-foot-4 and 306 pounds.

Teammates prefer the term “athletic,” because Cofield can do a lot more from the middle than just clog it up.

“He’s not your typical 3-4 nose tackle where he’s just in there stopping the run,” middle linebacker London Fletcher said. “He does a great job of that, but he also makes plays, he can rush the passer. I’ve been free to run to the football a lot more.”

Last year, the Redskins finished tied for 25th in sacks with 29. Cofield’s addition along a revamped line and an enhanced 3-4 defense should only help.

“I feel like we’re going to get more pressure on the quarterback. I feel like we’re going to be able to stop the run, which in turn makes teams throw the ball,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “Any time you’ve got a team that’s going to throw the ball, me, myself, you feel good about your chances of the getting the ball. It’s going to give us a chance to get more turnovers.”

It’s evident already in the preseason how big an impact the “undersized” Cofield can have on the Redskins‘ success. They allowed a combined 10 points against Pittsburgh and Indianapolis while surrendering the fewest yards of any team in the league. When Cofield was not playing well against Baltimore, the first-team defense gave up 14 points and 200 yards.

“We were sloppy. I know I was sloppy — it starts with me, so I take a lot of blame for it,” Cofield said. “I didn’t play my best ball.”

Cofield is only 27 and a newcomer around these parts, but his words seem to carry a certain amount of gravitas for the Redskins. He said that preseason experience was good to build adversity, and teammates seem to agree and follow his lead more often than not.

“I think he’s a natural leader more than anything,” Haslett said. “And he does it more by his play on the field. He doesn’t say much. He’s really smart. He picks things up really fast.”

There’s a reason younger and older teammates alike listen — because Cofield’s presence provides more opportunities for others.

“From a nose tackle standpoint, he’s keeping linemen out of my way. That’s his main job,” Fletcher said. “Don’t let them get to me. It’s not going to be where he’s going to have a bunch of tackles. He don’t need a bunch of tackles. Leave that to me!”

Cofield looks poised to help teammates pile up sacks while also getting a few himself - in other words providing big-time production in an “undersized” package.

“We’re coming along well. We’ve got a lot of talent,” Cofield said. “Put it all together and it’s a recipe for success.”

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