EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Playing on the New York Giants’ star-studded defensive line, Barry Cofield could easily get lost in the crowd.
Every game, it seems either Justin Tuck or Osi Umenyiora sweeps around the end for a sack or forced fumble or that big Chris Canty puts his hand up to knock down a pass to get the crowd roaring.
While Cofield has made his share of plays in helping the Giants take over the NFL’s No. 1 ranking on defense, he is also the guy in the middle of the line who allows the other guys to excel.
Not bad for a guy who the Giants seriously considered trading to the Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints on draft day in April.
“That would have been tragic,” Tuck said Thursday as the Giants (3-2) prepared for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions (1-4) at the New Meadowlands Stadium.
A starter since joining the Giants as a fourth-round draft pick in 2004, Cofield also is starting to get noticed, and not just for helping slow down the opposition’s running game.
Cofield has two sacks and has come up with a unique “Don’t tase me, bro” dance. The former Northwestern star holds his fist in the air and then holds it against his side and twitches as if the volts were pulsing through his body.
Tuck loves the move, as well as what Cofield is doing on the field.
“He does all the small things that people don’t notice,” Tuck said. “All the stuff you all do notice, that’s good and dandy. But the things you all do not know are tremendous. The things that he allows other people to do as far as taking on the double team or being unselfish on a rush and allowing Osi to kind of go get our sacks and things like that. I really put a high regard on a person like that because he kind of lives in our shadows sometimes.
“We’re kind of like the big-name guys, I guess, and it’s harder for him to kind of break that spotlight,” Tuck added. “And he doesn’t mind it. He just goes out there about his business, and I think that’s a lot harder than what I have to do everyday.”
New Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell says Cofield is not under his radar.
“He’s probably the smartest defensive lineman. Those other guys wouldn’t admit it, but he’s probably the smartest defensive lineman that we have in the room,” Fewell said. “He understands blocking schemes, he understands what the opponent is trying to do to him, he’s got that sixth sense and he’s able to make plays through not only his talent but that sixth sense. He’s a guy that can bring the guys together, but he does it in his own way.”
A major part of Cofield’s success this season is that he is finally healthy again. He battled an injury to his left knee late in the 2008 season and had offseason surgery. He spent most of last season trying to get the knee to 100 percent, without success.
Now, Cofield loves getting out on the practice field.
“I always feel for it every day, just to see if I am going to feel it and I haven’t,” Cofield said of his knee. “It’s a great feeling and makes me more excited to get on the field.”
Under Fewell, Cofield’s role has expanded. He used to be a first and second-down player who went to the sidelines on third down. He’s part of the pass rush now, one that posted 10 sacks against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago and added another three against Houston.
“The great thing about playing with these guys is how talented and versatile they are, and how much fun we have,” Cofield said. “We feed off each other. We all get along. It’s a very competitive relationship, almost like big brother, little brother. We got vets. We got youth. We have everything you want to cultivate a great defensive line, and I think that is what has happened.”
The Giants held Houston to a franchise-low 24 yards rushing. The Texans came into the game with the league’s top rushing attack.
“I always wanted to be the No. 1 defense, a defense that is feared, that wins 7-3 and 3-0 and those types of games,” Cofield said. “I want to be mentioned in the same breath with the Ravens and Steelers and accomplished defenses like those. We’re playing at a high level now and obviously consistency is the key to being in those rankings.”
Ironically, Cofield knows how close he came to being a Saint in the offseason and admits it’s a little weird when he sees them on television. He doesn’t hesitate to say New Orleans would be better against the run if he was there. However, he is thrilled still being with the Giants.
“The way we are playing, just the fun we are having, the schemes that coach Fewell has, you never know where you will be playing when you walk into that meeting room on Wednesday,” Cofield said. “It’s exciting to hear what he has to say, and it’s been a lot of fun.”