Philadelphia Eagles Outside Linebacker Trent Cole tenth season: Big Game Hunter Now Hunting For A Little Respect
“Meet me at the quarterback.”
These words were NOT uttered by one of the most prolific defenders to ever put on an Eagles uniform, but rather were said TO him. The source of that phrase was defensive end Jason Babin, whose mercurial second tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles netted him a glorious 18 quarterback sacks in 2011, but was sacked himself the following year in one of the worst locker-room chapters of the Eagles history. Meanwhile, then defensive end Trent Cole stuck to the “steady as she goes” game plan of terrorizing quarterbacks, which has netted him 79 sacks in just 9 years. Those are significant numbers in this NFL.
Still, Trent Cole is about as down to earth as you will find in the NFL. No fan can love the Eagles without smiling at the mention of @Pro_Hunt58. He’s Philly. He’s one of “us”. He simply is one of those players whose play places him in the upper echelons of the NFL, but his demeanor places him somewhere at the backyard barbecue, or better yet the hunting lodge telling stories about the trophy rack he shot several years ago.
Personally, I have a great deal of respect for Trent Cole, as a top player of the NFL, as an Eagle, but most of all, as a man who carries himself as someone I would love to sit down and write his entire life story. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though I would do an incredible job at it nor would it be something that has not been done many many times over. There have been very worthwhile articles written about Trent Cole virtually throughout his career.
My motivation is purely selfish. I want to hear the stories from Trent himself. Something along the lines of this interview he gave to Mossy Oaks Hunting Blog:
I feel really fortunate that I have been able to play the game of football going into my tenth year. Football is not only my job, it’s my passion, much like the passion I have for the outdoors. Every season I am often asked, “How much longer will you play professional football?” I know one day I will have to step away from the game. But I want to stay at least 4-more years, before I consider retiring. I have had a great career, and I have broken many records. I am the second all-time sack leader (currently at 79) for the Philadelphia Eagles, second only to the all-time-great Reggie White (at 124). Football has allowed me to meet many new people and make a lot of new friends in both the football world and the outdoor world. I also have learned a lot of life lessons through football and the outdoors.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned from football and hunting is patience. I am a blitz kind of guy. I want to go after something full-steam ahead and wide open in football, whether it’s a quarterback, a running back, or a receiver. In hunting, I want to aggressively pursue the animal that I hope to take. But in football, I have learned that sometimes you have to sit back and wait for the play to develop, before you know which way to go, and what you need to do to make a tackle.
Patience. What a great lesson to learn in life. Patience is something we could all do with a little more of. For instance, when I read articles questioning whether Trent Cole can still play at an elite level in just his second year of learning the outside linebacker role for the Philadelphia Eagles I think of that. Patience. When I read articles declaring Marcus Smith as the heir apparant to the void left by Trent Cole when Cole is still the starter, I think of that again. Patience.
I’ll risk showing the worst Eagles homerism I have in me over Trent Cole, as I feel he has done nothing for the last nine years but play at the top of his game without much help in sacking the quarterback standpoint. There are the occasional complimentary players, but they come and go while Trent continues to perform at that high level we’ve all come to expect. Many have written articles declaring the time to move away from Trent Cole is now or in the imminent future. But I’ll borrow the lesson from the man himself.
Some players are “nichy”. A specific scheme features their talents and the rest of the team must make up that difference. Jason Babin, who cannibalized any vestige of run defense in an all out sell-out to rushing the quarterback was a good example of that type of player.
But some players are gold. Any system, any task, any time, they will work at the role assigned to them until they master it at a level that few in the NFL can achieve. Trent Cole is gold.
2013 was a year of transition for the Eagles defense, and none more-so than a former pro-bowl defensive end who was asked to assume one of two outside linebacker roles. The unfamiliarity showed in those early games of 2013. No sacks. In fact, not only did he NOT record a sack in the first eight games of 2013, but he recorded just 23 tackles, or just under 3 tackles per game.
In the last eight games of 2013, things improved. Not only did he record 8 sacks, but he recorded 33 tackles. But that was just 8 games, right?
The surge continued into the playoffs. Against one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, Cole recorded a sack and five tackles.
But at the end of the year, he had just 8 regular season sacks, better than 2012 but an amount he last amassed while platooning back in 2006.
Eyes at the Eagles training camp are not weaving a fairy tale tapestry of magic and miracles and wonder and enchantment. But they are describing a defense which is light years ahead of 2013. A defensive backfield which is far better and cohesive. A defense which knows their roles and are now adding new wrinkles to plug holes discovered throught the 2013 season.
Trent Cole is more than a pass rush specialist. He’s one of the staunchest run defenders too. In his first year at outside linebacker, Cole ranked seventh by pro football focus. His rush defense was at a high level all season. His pass rush arrived in the second half of the season. The biggest off season project for Cole was to work on his pass coverage, where he was in the bottom tier ranking.
Patience is something Trent Cole learned by hunting, and something we could all use in assessing the quality of our outside linebacker play. Some men play to the camera. Some men cringe from the camera. A very few simply go out onto the NFL field and ignore the camera and do their best on each and every play. Cole is one of the last category. There is a reason he is the starting outside linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. The young man from the University of Cincinnati who survived a double pneumonia attack before falling to the fifth round of the 2005 NFL draft has experienced challenges before, and thrived.
Now. Grab a beer, sit back in that chair, and let Trent ease the worries about that defense from you. Patience is more than a virtue. For a player who generated 9 sacks in his last 9 NFL games (including a playoff loss) in 2013, he’s still a very dangerous player. And for an outside linebacker who seems to have something to prove to everyone, he’s still a very motivated player. And considering the fact that he was such a highly rated outside linebacker (7th in NFL by Pro Football Focus) in his first year at the position in the NFL, he’s still a very talented player.
So tell me again, weren’t the Eagles supposedly looking for a talented, motivated, dangerous outside linebacker with a proven track record in the NFL? He’s already on the roster.
In the first six games of 2014, Cole has gotten 3.5 sacks and 17 tackles. But he’s shown up in other ways too. He’s forced three fumbles. He’s a sniper when it comes to quarterback hits. At 32, some question whether he still has “it”. Not only does he have it, but he shares it routinely with opposing quarterbacks. He is one of the best Eagles defenders to ever sack a quarterback.