They entered the NFL together in the 2006 draft class and quickly became starters for their respective teams as rookies.
Barry Cofield began laying the groundwork to establish himself as one of the NFL’s top defensive tackles.
Kevin Boothe got cut by Oakland the following year.
As fate would have it, they would become teammates for four seasons with the New York Giants.
Cofield and Boothe will cross paths once again Sunday – albeit on different sides — in the FOX America’s Game of the Week between Washington and the host Giants.
Cofield left New York in the 2011 offseason for a six-year, $36 million contract to become Washington’s starting nose tackle. At the time, Boothe was New York’s top reserve interior offensive lineman. He was capable of playing center and both guard positions but unable to secure a first-string spot.
Those backup days are now gone. Boothe entered the starting lineup for the final nine games of New York’s 2011 Super Bowl season and subsequently entrenched himself at left guard, which is where he will be seeing plenty of Cofield during Sunday’s contest.
“Even though he wasn’t a starter when I was there, I always had a lot of respect for him,” Cofield told FOXSports.com after Wednesday’s practice at Redskins Park. “You could see that he could play the game. I’m just really happy for him that he got an opportunity and seized it.
“He’s got long arms. He’s a heavy, strong guy and is hard to move. He’s fit right in there.”
Boothe initially fit right in with the Raiders, starting 14 games as a 2006 sixth-round draft pick from Cornell. But when Oakland changed head coaches from Art Shell to Lane Kiffin, Boothe found himself on the waiver wire at the end of the 2007 preseason.
Although quickly claimed by the Giants, Boothe told FOXSports.com that his release served as a tough lesson about how quickly things can change in the pro ranks.
“It was a very humbling time,” Boothe admitted in a telephone interview. “For the first time in my life, I was basically told I was not good enough to play football. It’s like getting fired from your job.
“Luckily, that didn’t last for too long. But I think that was my “Welcome to the NFL” moment right there. Things aren’t given to you. You have to work day in and day out and not take things for granted.”
With the Giants and Redskins coming off impressive victories, both teams are trying to take the same approach entering Sunday’s game.
The matchup between New York’s offensive line and Washington’s defensive front could be the determining factor. The Giants held San Francisco without a sack and paved the way for Ahmad Bradshaw to gain 116 yards against one of the league’s top run defenses in last Sunday’s stunning 26-3 road upset.
Cofield noted that New York used the same offensive formula for success in their past two wins against San Francisco and Cleveland: Build a lead primarily through the Eli Manning-led aerial attack, then punish fatigued defenses and control time of possession with the ground game.
In the first halves of those games, the Giants tallied 355 passing yards and 107 rushing yards. In the final two quarters, New York posted 285 rushing yards compared to 97 in the air.
“It seems like they’re using the running game as the closer,” said Cofield, whose specialty is run defense. “They’re still going to do what they have to do to get up. Eli is playing great and they’re so talented at receiver that they’re going to pass the ball when they want to pass. If they get a lead, they’re able to milk the clock and really demoralize a defense with that running game.”
Washington’s 27th-ranked defense hasn’t proven as formidable largely because of inconsistent secondary play and injuries that include the loss of two key front-seven starters in outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker. The Redskins, though, have compensated with the NFL’s No. 8 run defense (88.8-yard average) and by returning five of 14 forced turnovers for touchdowns. Washington is tied for second in the NFC in turnover differential at plus-nine.
“Those (turnovers) are things that can really change the tide of a game and make up for a lot of other mistakes that you may make,” Cofield said. “We’re very happy with those big plays we’ve made and what we’ve done against the run. We feel like if we continue to be opportunistic, we can beat anybody.”
Avoiding that fate and keeping atop the NFC East is ample motivation for Boothe and the Giants (4-2), let alone avenging the two 2011 losses New York suffered against the Redskins (3-3).
“Their defense last year pretty much beat us handily,” Boothe said. “One thing we talk about is maintaining balance. It seems we’ve established that the last couple of weeks. If you become one-dimensional against those guys, it becomes very tough offensively.”
Boothe praised Cofield for being a “very athletic, quick-twitch guy who’s smart, too.”
“I also don’t think people realize how strong he is,” Boothe continued. “I learned that from when I first joined the Giants.”
Boothe and Cofield both know the challenge that the other will provide from their days butting helmets in Giants practices.