In his return from short-term injured reserve, Redskins defensive lineman Barry Cofield eased his way into last week’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, playing relatively limited snaps primarily at defensive end.
That will change Sunday in San Francisco. With nose tackle Chris Baker ruled out because of a chest injury, Cofield will be expected to not only play more snaps but also spend more time at nose tackle, the more strenuous role he has occupied for most of his NFL career.
“It’s demanding in there, man,” coach Jay Gruden said Friday. “Those guys bump and grind all day long. They’ve got to hold up centers. They’ve got to work off double teams. They’ve got to stay in their gap, and it’s not easy with those big linemen pushing you down and double-teaming you. So, yes, it’s important to have a good rotation and to make sure the guy is 100 percent healthy and in good shape before you ask him to do a lot of snaps.”
Cofield was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return after suffering a high ankle sprain in Week 1 against the Texans. He also had a second surgery to repair his ailing groin while he was sidelined.
The 30-year-old admitted he was sore after Washington’s 27-7 loss to the Buccaneers but he had no setbacks in practice this week.
“I thought Barry did well,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said Thursday. “We kind of limited him to nickel, just to get him reps, trying to get him out of the first, second-down stuff. We played a lot of under defense so he couldn’t play with some of the other guys.”
Kedric Golston will also see increased playing time at nose tackle this week, while Stephen Bowen is expected to be active and rotate regularly along the defensive line. Bowen was a healthy scratch last week for the first time since Week 2 of the 2008 season, when he was playing for the Dallas Cowboys.
Haslett said it was difficult to leave Bowen, who had only recently returned from a career-threatening knee injury, out of the game.
“We just thought at the time, last week, we probably played him too much the week before. He wasn’t putting the foot in the ground,” Haslett explained. “I thought he did a great job this week of showing us that he’s ready to play and executing in practice. So we’ll see what happens.”
Through their first 10 games, the Redskins have repeatedly struggled to get to the quarterback with their defensive linemen alone. Only three linemen — Jason Hatcher (four), Frank Kearse (three) and Cofield (one) — have recorded a sack this season.
Though Baker has been stout against the run, Gruden is confident that the rest of his linemen — and Cofield in particular — will step up in his absence.
“We feel like [Cofield’s] in good shape,” Gruden said. “Last week he did a good job for the reps he has, but we still have a real good rotation with Baker not going. We still have Bowen, we still have Golston, we still have obviously Barry. So, we have a good rotation.”