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Eagles Eye: Eagles-Giants predictions
In seven games as an outside linebacker, Trent Cole has yet to record a sack. It's been nine games since his last sack, dating back to last season. (USA Today Images)
Offensive linemen used to approach Trent Cole after games and complain about the 60 minutes of brutal trench warfare Cole had just put them through.
Nowadays, Cole is just as apt to engage in a postgame chat with a tight end who was surprised to find himself matched up against the Eagles’ veteran whatever-he-is in coverage.
“I’m just like, hey, there’s a new Trent Cole,” Cole said recently after practice. “And he’s playing outside linebacker.”
After nine highly successful seasons entrenched at defensive end, a near-decade in which he climbed up the franchise sack chart to No. 3 all-time behind Reggie White and Clyde Simmons, Cole just isn’t that guy anymore.
He’s not always launching his body at the quarterback with reckless abandon or hand-fighting with 320-pound tackles. He still rushes the passer and is occasionally granted permission to put his hand back on the ground, but his assignments are more varied. And there are a dozen or so plays each game when he’s dropping into coverage.
Learning an entirely new position and adapting to an entirely new scheme in his 10th season isn’t what Cole envisioned at the end of last season. Even harder, though, was reprogramming himself to be satisfied by his impact in games when he comes up empty in the sack department.
And those games keep mounting. They reached seven of seven on Sunday against Dallas and his overall sackless streak, dating back to last year, is at nine.
“Yeah, that’s a big change, when you know you’re not just going out there [and rushing the passer]. It’s hard to swallow,” he said. “It was hard to swallow at first, but hey, you’ve got to get over it.
“Why sit there and be miserable when you have to do it regardless as a fact? So I keep moving forward, never look in the past. I’m not gonna sit there and be miserable. I told you all in the beginning that I’m going to do whatever I’ve got to do to make this work. I ain’t gonna sit back and be miserable, because I’m here to play ball.”
While Cole’s mindset is under adjustment, plenty of folks outside the NovaCare Complex haven’t so easily grasped the concept. After every game, especially an Eagles' loss, you hear the gripes and concerns that age has finally caught up to the 31-year-old.
Not only has he managed just three sacks in his past 19 games, but also his last multi-sack game came Dec. 11, 2010. That means we’re less than two months away from Cole’s three-year anniversary of his last multi-sack game.
“He’ll get there,” outside linebackers coach Bill McGovern promised. “He will be getting there. Trust me.”
McGovern’s opinion is more reflective of the appreciation for Cole’s adaptability, versatility and leadership inside the NovaCare Complex compared to the panic from the outside.
In Cole, McGovern sees the tenacious warrior who not only accepted his changing role but also embraced the challenge of learning coverage for the first time. He sees Cole in the classroom, absorbing his new assignments and improving with each practice, and the widespread impact Cole has on the defense and locker room.
“He’ll do whatever it takes,” McGovern said. “We need him to rush from the outside, he’ll rush from the outside. We need him to rush from the inside, he’ll rush from the inside. We need him to cover, he’ll cover.”
They needed him for both in last Sunday’s game against Dallas, when one series best illustrated Cole’s fluid role and ability to make an impact from two different positions, and why the Eagles held the NFL’s No. 3-ranked scoring offense to just 17 points.
On one snap, Cole lined up at outside linebacker, accurately read the defensive check into coverage and then ran stride-for-stride with eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten 10 yards downfield to force Tony Romo into an incomplete pass.
“That was a great play,” said Connor Barwin, the other outside linebacker who played in Houston’s 3-4 front before signing with the Eagles. “For a guy that has played D-end for [nine] years to make that play … We were in a defense and we had to check our defense because of the formation, and Trent got the check, changed his job right before the snap and then covered Witten down the seam. That was an unbelievable play.”
A few plays later, Cole helped Vinny Curry pick up sack No. 2 when he stunted around Curry and drew Dallas left guard Ronald Leary away from a double team. Leary left center Travis Frederick alone to block Curry, who beat Frederick for the sack.
“He’s a beast,” Curry said of Cole. “A beast.”
When informed that Cole’s reputation as an upper-echelon player in the league has taken a hit recently, Curry seemed astonished.
“Seriously?” he said. “Man, listen. Trent Cole is a monster. He’s all over the field, and if you watch the film, he’s damn near on every tackle. That guy is relentless.”
In most 3-4 defenses like the one employed by the Eagles, sacks usually come from the linebackers. Of the Eagles’ 15 sacks, Barwin has three, Ryans has two and Brandon Graham has one.
Cole’s goose egg gives the impression that he’s lost some of the pass-rushing threat that made him a two-time Pro Bowl defensive end, but McGovern sees steady improvement every game and someone making a difference.
“His numbers are great,” McGovern said. “I thought even last game was probably his best overall game. With us dropping him now, it’s not as if his hand is in the ground rushing every single time. But he’s also getting to the quarterback in those times. He just hasn’t gotten to him with the ball in his hand yet.”
The nine-game drought is already the longest of his career without at least a half-sack. Before going eight games last season without at least one-half sack in a game, he hadn’t gone more than four without one since 2007.
And what if Cole went the entire year without a sack? Cole was asked if he could be satisfied with his season if he doesn’t get one, even if his coaches are pleased with his progression and impact.
“I won’t be satisfied, but as long as I know I did my job ... but I mean I do want sacks,” he said. “Oh, I do want sacks. I got the mentality of a D-end, of a guy who goes out and tries to get sacks. That’s just my mentality.
“But like I said, I play linebacker now. I have a different responsibility. I’m going to do it and that’s what I’m here to play. That’s what it’s going to be.”