Eagles hoping a stalwart bookend emerges for Pro Bowl end Cole

Trent Cole had 12 sacks and made the Pro Bowl last season.
Trent Cole had 12 sacks and made the Pro Bowl last season.
Posted: July 23, 2010

THE EAGLES got a bargain-basement deal when they selected defensive end Trent Cole in the fifth round of the 2005 NFL draft.

Over the last four seasons, the Birds have invested millions of dollars on free agents and draft picks looking for a bookend complement to Cole.

The search begins anew this training camp with rookie Brandon Graham, the 13th overall pick in April, looking to become a positive force on the opposite side who will prevent opposing teams from devoting so much energy to slowing down Cole.

"So far, from what I've seen, [Graham] is a great player," Cole said recently. "He's all what they tell you he is - a hard worker. He doesn't stop. He's fast. He uses his hands and I like the way he's developed."

As much as this season will be about turning the page from Donovan McNabb to Kevin Kolb at quarterback, the Eagles' success could rest primarily on an improved defense.

While the Eagles were among the league leaders last season with 25 interceptions, they allowed 27 passing touchdowns. The Birds had not allowed that many since yielding 29 in 1987.

Despite the Eagles having issues to resolve at linebacker and in the secondary, a better pass rush with some help for Cole could cut that number substantially.

Coming out of the University of Cincinnati as an "undersized" defensive end, Cole was on a mission to prove that the Eagles had found something unique with the 146th pick.

Five seasons and 47 career sacks later, Cole has more than made his point.

Since 2006, Cole's first as a starter, only two players in the NFC - DeMarcus Ware, of the Cowboys, and Jared Allen, of the Vikings - have recorded more than his 42 sacks. And many of Allen's sacks came in the AFC with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Allen is the only defensive end with more tackles for losses than Cole over the last 4 years.

Cole was a Pro Bowl selection in 2007 and 2009, and his emergence as an elite quarterback stalker has been noticed around the league. Last season, Cole was often double- and sometimes triple-teamed to keep him out of a quarterback's face.

Being chipped by running backs and tight ends has become an expected occurrence for Cole. He still managed to get 12 1/2 sacks in 2009, but the physical beatings appeared to wear him down some toward the end of the season.

Cole is just 27, and a quality defensive end can make an impact for close to a decade if his body holds up. Minimizing the pressure Cole faces would be both a short- and long-term investment for the Eagles.

"It takes a toll on your body the next day," Cole conceded. "When you have games like that and you're getting double-teamed, it takes a toll. It beats you up.

"It's a totally different game seeing a game with double-teams compared to one when you don't get double-teamed. It's just not the same when you are going against double-teams."

The only way the Eagles are going to stop that is if a player on the opposite side can make opponents pay.

Obviously, Cole isn't going to criticize his teammates, but the fact the Eagles continually have adjusted the defensive line around Cole says something. Over the last four seasons, Darren Howard is the only player besides Cole to have a double-digit sack season (10 in 2008).

Juqua Parker, who is coming off his best season, with eight sacks, is at the top of the depth chart for the other side, although his size (6-2, 250) is not suited to being an every-down end. The Eagles selected Washington's Daniel Te'o-Nesheim in the third round, although he could play tackle in passing situations, and traded for Darryl Tapp from Seattle. Tapp could wind up playing first and second down because he is better against the run.

But no one is going to complain if Graham, who starred at the University of Michigan, opens his career with a huge training camp and pushes his way into the starting lineup.

"Help is always great," Cole said. "I'm confident in the group of guys we have on this team."

From a personal standpoint, Cole is going to do what he always has.

"My goal is to just go out there and get it done," he said. "I want to do my part to contribute and make plays.

"But ultimately we win as a team."

Still, when you ask Cole what kind of season he could string together if he didn't face a constant array of double-teams, his eyes light up the way they must when he knows he has a quarterback square in his sights for a beatdown.

"I couldn't imagine," Cole said with a sly smile. "It would be something."

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