Eagles defensive end Trent Cole expects big things this season

Posted: May 29, 2012

When Trent Cole arrived in Philadelphia, he was a fifth-round pick recovering from two bouts of pneumonia and felt decidedly out of place in a big city hundreds of miles removed from the rural stretches of Ohio where he spent his childhood hunting.

"When I first got here, I was like, 'Man, I don't know about this,' " Cole said. "I'm serious, I told 'em, 'Direct me to the woods.' "

Eight years later, Cole is one of the three longest-tenured Eagles and has established himself as one of the most prolific pass rushers in the NFL. He still has a noticeable drawl - when he says "woods" it sounds as if he's using four O's, not two - but South Jersey and Philadelphia have become home.

In March, Cole signed an extension that runs through 2017, when he'll turn 35, and said recently he hopes to play long enough to have another Eagles contract in his future. More immediately, Cole expects big things on the field this year.

"Eighteen sacks," he said, citing the number fellow defensive end Jason Babin racked up last season. After a moment he revised his target to 19, to do even better.

Since 2006, his sophomore season in the NFL, Cole has 68 sacks, placing him behind only Dallas' DeMarcus Ware and Minnesota's Jared Allen in that time frame, according to the Eagles. He had 11 sacks a year ago, his fourth double-digit tally in five years, despite missing two games and having a long adjustment to defensive line coach Jim Washburn's wide-nine front.

"It took me to the end of the year to really catch on. I struggled with it," Cole said. "Not just me, I can talk for other people as well."

For seven years Cole was part of a line that read the offense and then attacked. But under Washburn, he was supposed to ignore any motion, ignore pulling guards, ignore tight ends coming to blast him from the side.

"He could just sit there and knock your head off . . . but when you come out of your stance, you better just hit everything," Cole said. "You run everything on your way over."

It took getting used to. Lined up out wide, coach Andy Reid said, Cole could see more of the offense, giving him more information to diagnose. But at the snap, he was now supposed to ignore it all.

"The key to it is you run through that wall right there that you've had to develop over the years," Reid said. "You're playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage, and then you read from there."

Said Cole, "You might say, 'Oh my gosh, this is crazy,' but you've got to believe in it. You better coax yourself into believing it."

Reid first noticed Cole while scouting one of his teammates at Cincinnati. He was "destroying people out there," Reid recalled.

But as the defensive end tried to bulk up for the NFL draft, he suffered through two stints of pneumonia. His weight dropped from around 260 to 230, and he struggled at the NFL combine. But Reid came away impressed after an interview.

"You could feel his energy and sense that he was high octane," Reid said.

"I thought I was going to die, man, it was so bad," Cole recalled of that time. "There's times when I should have been in the hospital. Me, stubborn as I am, I get it from my daddy, they say, I was going to fight it, because I just don't quit. I've never quit."

After the Eagles picked him in Round 5 of the 2005 draft, Cole worked out so hard he arrived at training camp around 270 pounds.

"I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I knew I was going to play hard and make myself a place here."

Cole goes "100 miles an hour" in practice and games, Reid said, rarely showing fatigue. He has missed just two games for injury since becoming a full-time starter in 2006 and is the team's most complete defensive player, able to rush quarterbacks and use his relentless pursuit against the run.

He has found balance out east. He can drive to Philadelphia to enjoy city life but lives in a rural part of South Jersey where he can hunt on his own land or on 600 acres he leases. The morning of a recent interview, Cole emerged from a workout in a sleeveless shirt, arms bulging, and talked about the turkey he killed that morning and planned to eat that night.

Cole, defensive tackle Mike Patterson and tackle Todd Herremans, all members of the Eagles 2005 draft class, have been on the team longer than any other current players. Cole and Patterson sometimes joke about it when they feel sore or tired.

"We're on our way out this thing," they sometimes tell one another, Cole said.

But in reality Cole believes he has many years left. Wear and tear had been a growing concern for Cole leading up to last year, but he said the Eagles deep defensive line rotation kept him feeling strong throughout last season and into this spring.

"I might play into another contract," Cole said. He added that he hopes to finish his career as an Eagle - "When they cut me, I'm, 'OK. I'm ready to retire,' " - but then hedged when asked if he could ever play elsewhere.

"No," he said, "unless the money's right, for real."

For the foreseeable future, though, Cole is an Eagle.

Rarely mentioned among the pass rushing elite despite impressive numbers, Cole said he might get more acclaim if he sought media attention. But he prefers to use his free time to hunt deer and bears, not exposure.

"I let my actions speak," he said. "Game film don't lie."

So far, Cole has 115 games of NFL film - and counting.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari.

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