Nearly 10 seasons of crashing helmets with offensive linemen has given Trent Cole more than just grey chin stubble and a reputation as one of the league’s stalwart pass rushers.
It’s given the Eagles’ veteran outside linebacker perspective.
As he prepares for his 10th year with the franchise, second as an outside ‘backer in Chip Kelly’s 3-4 scheme, Cole is acutely aware of his loosening grip on the starting job he’s held since midway through his rookie season in 2005.
He’s not exactly the model outside ‘backer for a 3-4 scheme and his security is threatened by a wave of younger, athletic prospects who more fit Kelly’s archetype for the position.
But none of this matters, Cole said Monday, because he believes there’s still plenty left in his tank. And if 2014 happens to be his last year in an Eagles uniform, then he’s ready to put the pedal to the floor.
“It doesn’t matter because I’ve got this calm to me, like I’m real laid back,” he said. “I don’t care about too many things, because I’m going to be all right no matter what. I know I’m gonna play hard regardless. I’m going to be a force wherever I go until the day they tell me it's time to quit.”
And that day, he insisted, isn’t coming soon, even if subtle writing on the wall suggests it could be.
On Sunday, defensive coordinator Bill Davis mentioned that Brandon Graham, another 4-3 defensive end convert, had bridged the considerable gap between he and Cole (see story). Depending on how you parsed Davis’ comments, they were either simple praise for Graham’s development or veiled innuendo suggesting Cole could be losing ground to the former first-round pick.
Cole laughed off the latter sentiment.
“I like how ya’ll ran with that,” he said. “I don’t care. I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do and he knows how it is. If you don’t like how I’m gonna play, then sit me on the bench.”
Later, Cole said the coaches would play whomever’s the best, and he’s not worried about that decision -- if there’s even a decision to make.
“If they think I’m ready to go out there and play I’m gonna play,” he said. “If they don’t, I’m not. It’s not my team. Best believe the right guy will be out there.”
For the record, there’s been no indications from the coaching staff -- spoken or otherwise -- that Cole’s standing on shaky ground. He’s taken almost every first-team rep at right outside linebacker, the “Predator” of Davis’ hybrid scheme in practice and preseason games. He’s maintained his prominent pass-rushing role in the nickel and sub packages.
If Graham is truly breathing down Cole’s neck, Cole isn’t feeling the mist.
“Some people feel pushed, but me, I’m a guy … I don’t feel pushed,” he said. “The best guy’s gonna be out there. Whoever they’re gonna put out there is gonna play. That’s how it goes. If Brandon’s out there, he’s gotta go play. If I’m out there, I gotta go play. If I’m out there, I’m determined. I know what I’m gonna do and I’m gonna give you everything I got.”
Cole is more focused on showing that his modest 2014 sack total was more traceable to his abrupt conversion into an outside linebacker and new scheme than the natural byproduct of aging. He had eight sacks last year, his second straight season under double digits, but all eight came in four games and none in the first eight weeks of the season.
In May, the Eagles used their first-round pick on former Louisville outside linebacker Marcus Smith, who logged 14.5 sacks in his senior season and left with the seventh-most sacks in school history. The team has also touted Travis Long, another outside linebacker with a 3-4 pedigree, who spent all of last year on the practice squad.
With Cole’s base salary slated to double from $5 million this year to $10 million or more in each of the next three seasons, it’s reasonable to assume this year will be Cole’s swan song in an Eagles uniform.
“When I came in (in 2005) there was guys in front of me and look at me now,” said Cole, who ranks second on the franchise’s all-time sack list, behind only icon Reggie White. “It’s a process. That’s the way it goes. I have a calm about it. I’m not like everybody. I don’t get upset. I’m going to keep playing until the wheels fall off and somebody else is going to take my place. I’ve had a good career. I’m just gonna keep rolling and go as hard as I can until the wheels fall off.”