With the Panthers facing a 1st-and-15 early in the contest Thursday, Cam Newton takes the snap, drops back and looks in the direction of Steve Smith for the quick strike. A scan of the area, and Newton likely realizes that the receiver is facing a double-team.
So he went off his first read. By the time he got to his second read, Cedric Thornton had made his way into the backfield. Newton was flushed to his right and was forced to throw it away.
Who was double-teaming Smith on the left side along with Cary Williams?
None other than Trent Cole.
“It’s coming natural now,” said Cole of dropping into coverage. “I’ve dropped in previous years, but dropping all the time now it’s becoming natural.
“The first game against the Patriots I was a little hesitant because I was trying to do straight assignment. Now I have that mindset to come out here and play assignment football and go get it. I got things down now. I’m out there comfortable. Watch the game — I’m relaxed out there, just ready to play ball.”
Cole is one of the most important players on the team when it comes to undergoing a successful defensive transformation in Year One. The 30-year-old is being asked to move to a 3-4 outside linebacker role after eight (largely successful) years as a 4-3 defensive end. He is penciled in as the starter opposite Connor Barwin.
Defensive coordinator Billy Davis seems to be pleased with Cole’s development to date.
“I think they did a nice job tonight,” said Davis of the outside linebackers. “The coverage aspect of it is something you’re always looking at. I’ve put them in coverage to see how they do and they haven’t put in harm’s way at all. They’re doing a nice job.”
Barwin has experience playing the position but the other two key members of the positional group — Cole and Brandon Graham — are brand new to the post.
Cole did drop into coverage about 100 times under Sean McDermott back in 2010, according to outside linebackers coach Bill McGovern. But he only dropped 14 times over the last two seasons.
The new role certainly won’t be all about coverage. Cole is primarily a pass-rusher and will be attacking the quarterback more times than not — just from a new vantage point.
“I love it,” said Cole, when asked about life as a linebacker. “It’s different and I’m having fun with it because I get to run around, I’m not getting double-teamed, and I get to come flying in. I’m used to coming off the line and hitting guys. Now I’m flying in on a running start. And they’re either going to take it or get out of the way.”
Cole has 71 career sacks, so Davis knows what to expect from him in that department. It’s dropping that is still an unknown. If Cole can manage the added responsibility, the transition process will be made all the easier for Davis and this Eagles defense.
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