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Cole Adapts To OLB Challenge

Posted Dec 4, 2013

Nobody promised an easy path. Indeed, the obstacles for a player making his living with his hand on the ground to begin a play and being asked to stand up instead were significant. That's exactly why Trent Cole embraced the challenge ...

One of the all-time best Eagles didn't pout or wonder if his career was on the downside when the new coaching staff ditched the 4-3 front that Trent Cole made his own for so many seasons here and instead moved him to the outside linebacker spot, where he would stand up on just about every play and see the game from a perspective he hadn't experienced since his college days at Cincinnati.

Cole just kept working. He kept attacking. He took the approach that he takes every day in life, that he would accept the challenge and defeat it.

"I'm an extreme thrill seeker," said Cole, standing cross armed at his locker at the NovaCare Complex, relaxed, contemplating. "I do all of that hunting and the outdoors stuff because I love the challenge. I love the thrill of winning, being outdoors and overcoming Mother Nature and succeeding. That's what it was like for me when I found out about the 3-4 and where I would line up. I was like, 'I'm going to find a way to be great at this.' It's a lot different than anything I've done in the NFL, but I really like it. I just go out there and play hard, as I've always done."

There is absolutely no doubting that. Cole has been non-stop relentless since the day he was taken in the fifth round of the 2005 draft. All of that effort and that natural burst off the line of scrimmage and the hunger with which Cole plays on every snap made him one of the NFL's best defensive ends in the last decade. He accumulated 71 quarterback sacks from 2005 through 2011 and made the Pro Bowl twice. Teams accounted for Cole on every snap, almost always sending two and sometimes three blockers his way.

Nobody who has ever worn an Eagles uniform has played with more heart and energy and left all of himself out on the field as Cole.

"Nobody plays harder than Trent. He never slows down. I'm pretty amazed at the energy he has," said the late, great defensive coordinator Jim Johnson of Cole. "Trent is always going to give you effort on every play. There aren't many players like him."

Cole's sack numbers dipped significantly in 2012, when he recorded only 3 after reaching double digits in four of the previous five seasons. What happened? Why was he a half step late to the quarterback? What it a sign of a player who had given so much and who had exhausted his body so completely just not having enough gas in the tank?

"It was frustrating, I admit that," said Cole. "I was used to getting there, to getting home. I kept working hard and keeping a positive attitude and it's paid off."

The 2012 defense was a disaster in just about every respect, so Cole turned the page in anticipation for his ninth season. The Eagles changed the coaching staff and hired Chip Kelly, who in turn hired Bill Davis to run the defense, who introduced early on the defensive concept: The Eagles would be going to a 3-4 defense and Cole would start every play standing up.

In preparation for the new job description, Cole lost 13 pounds heading into training camp. A 3-4 'backer at Cincinnati, Cole relished the idea of mastering the role.

"The only way to beat it is to work hard and keep working hard, keep going," said Cole. "I'm a competitive person. This was a very competitive situation. Not easy. I've been a defensive end, defensive tackle, since I've been in the NFL. 

"I always play hard and I just keep playing the way I've played. I credit the coaching I've gotten and my teammates helping me out. I feel like it's coming along pretty good."

Cole has five sacks in the last three games and now has 76 in his career, tied for second in team history with Clyde Simmons (Reggie White leads, with 124 quarterback sacks). He has always played the run well, and the effort is there without question. But that half-step, that micro-second, that was missing last season, has been there for Cole of late.

His timing has improved. His sense of anticipation is better and his technique is refined.

"The Beast," (my long-time greeting for Cole when I see him) is back.

"It feels really good to be productive and help the defense," he said. "Things have been improving for us every week and we're winning games. That's all I care about.

"I feel like maybe if I had come out and played in a 3-4 (many felt Cole was best suited for a 3-4 outside linebacker role when he weighed 235 pounds at the time of the NFL draft) it would have been right for me. That's how much I like it. I've gotten better in everything --my drop in coverage, leverage, seeing things. Every day I'm working out there, trying to get better."

That's the right approach, one that has allowed it all to click for Cole at just the right time for a surging Eagles defense playing in the heat of the NFC playoff chase in December.

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