All-22: Trent Cole, Reinvented

cole_940_100413Trent Cole used to pace around his locker stall like a mad man leading up to big games. If it was Dallas week or Giants week, the look in his eyes would get a little bit crazier, his voice more animated. One time a couple seasons back he was so hyped that he did an entire interview standing on a chair while talking nonsensically.

He would get wound up and wound up some more until the band was ready to snap, then would unleash it all on Sunday.

The 31-year-old has mellowed some of late. He’ll still get wild but not as often or to the level he used to. On this particular day he did the interview seated on his chair and speaking in a measured tone, even with the New York game fast approaching. Truth be told, his new position doesn’t require the bat-out-of-hell Trent Cole. Seek and destroy has been largely replaced by read and react.

Changing from defensive end to linebacker isn’t just about learning the intricacies of a new position but also re-wiring your mindset. So much of Cole’s football existence was about getting to the quarterback. He posted 71 sacks over his first eight seasons  (9 sacks/season average) and reached double-digit sacks in four of those campaigns. This year through seven games he has zero.

“It’s hard to swallow. It’s hard to swallow at first,” Cole admitted, “but you’ve got to get over it. Why sit there and be miserable when you’re going to have to do it regardless? I just keep moving forward. I’m going to do whatever I gotta do to make this work. I’m not going to sit there and be miserable because I’m here to play ball, I’m here to play for the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Cole has played 420 snaps this season and has dropped into coverage a total of 50 times for a rate of 12 percent, per Pro Football Focus. He dropped a season-high 11 times this past week against Dallas. The veteran actually plays two positions: he’s deployed as an outside linebacker in base and often switches to defensive end in nickel situations. Sometimes he can cut loose, sometimes he’ll two-gap.

One series in the second quarter against the Cowboys helps illustrate how Cole is impacting the game outside of the realm of statistics.

On first-and-10 at the Dallas 39, Cole finds himself locked up one-on-one with standout tight end Jason Witten.

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Nate Allen has crept down into the box and will come on the blitz. The Eagles are in base and the Cowboys are showing a four-receiver look. To account for all of this, DeMeco Ryans has to check the coverage. The frame above you see him communicating with Cole right before the ball is snapped. The message: you got Witten.

“You guys don’t understand that play; that was a great play,” said Connor Barwin. “For a guy that has played d-end for eight years to make that play…That was a check. 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. If he would have had a better throw he might have had an interception.”

What Cole lacks in natural cover skills he tries to make up for with aggressiveness, physicality and hustle. If he’s responsible for a receiver, he goes on the attack.

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“I didn’t care who it was. They can put anybody they want out there. I don’t care how fast he is. I’ll tell you dang well I’m goin’ to friggin’ put my hands on him before he gets too far away from me,” said Cole, some of the familiar fire coming out.

It wasn’t all brawn on this play. It turned into a foot race and Cole kept pace.

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Some pressure got to Romo and the ball was overthrown. Barwin’s assertion that Cole could have had a pick here may be a little far fetched (he never turned his head around) but the coverage was solid nonetheless.

Two plays later, Cole puts his pass-rushing hat back on. This was the play where Vinny Curry got his sack.

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Big o’l No. 65 Ronald Leary will engage with Curry as Cole wraps around to hit the A-gap. Below you will see that Leary is peeking at Cole as he makes his way around.

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The Dallas guard decides to cut Curry loose to account for Cole. The result?

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Curry gets a free shot at Romo. That doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but you can see that Curry should probably buy Cole lunch this week to thank him.

“He’s a disruptive force.  You turn on the tape, and you see it,” said Billy Davis.  “He’s back there causing double teams and chips and everything to come his way.  We’re very happy with where Trent is right now.”

Cole is credited with four hurries on the year to go with 29 tackles, two forced fumbles and a pass defensed. He’ll be quick to remind you that he is still “sackless” on the year and the defense could certainly use some takedowns out of No. 58. But overall, his teammates and coaches are impressed with what they have seen out of Cole, especially given the circumstances.

“I’ve been watching him for four years, and everybody in the league knows he’s just a football player, kind of a maniac out there,” said Barwin. “I had no doubt he’d be able to make the transition. But getting to know him and how open-minded he’s been when obviously he’s been playing d-end for the past eight years at a very high level, to make that switch at that point of his career has been really impressive.”

Added Cary Williams: “We’ve got guys that are in awkward positions at times. We’ve got Trent Cole dropping. He’s a prolific pass rusher and he’s a drop linebacker now so he’s trying to learn those things and it’s not going to happen overnight.

“It’s tough when you’ve been doing something for eight, nine years and then all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Ahh, I got to drop.’ It’s tough on those guys. That’s one guy I look at that I know is doing a hell of a job out there, the best he can. But I know when [the Ravens] played against those guys he was a marked man on our offense, a marquee guy that we’ve got to look out for. He’s one of many guys that are trying to transition.”