The haters were coming hard at Trent Cole early in the year. In fact, the whispers started last season — after he registered a single-season, career-low three sacks — that maybe the game had passed the veteran pass-rusher by. There was simply no dog left in Cole and, at age 31, there was no teaching that old dog new tricks.
Cole had to learn an entirely new defense this past offseason, as the Eagles switched to a 3-4 hybrid. Suddenly, a man who had simply been asked to rush the passer his entire career was being told to drop back in coverage, potentially matching up against running backs and tight ends.
The transition was slow, uneasy at times in the preseason, but Cole appears to have turned the corner. His strip-sack of Carson Palmer, on the Cardinals’ first series, in Sunday’s 24-21 Eagles win set the tone for the whole game. Later, he added another sack to boost his 2013 total to five, including two straight weeks with two-sack performances. Apparently, old dogs can learn new tricks.
“I told myself in the beginning of the year that I was going to make it work regardless,” said Cole, who switched from a pass-rushing defensive end to an outside linebacker this past offseason. “Hard work pays off, man. If you work hard, good things will happen.”
Cole’s second sack against Arizona moved him into second place on the Eagles’ all-time list, tied with Clyde Simmons at 76. A respectful Cole downplayed that honor.
“Well, it’s great … just numbers, though,” Cole said. “It’s about where we’re at on the year, as a team, winning games and knowing what this team can do, and we’re doing it.”
As the longest-tenured player on the Eagles, Cole has seen it all. While he wasn’t totally open to changing all aspects of his game at first, Cole has taken defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ teachings to heart.
“I have watched Trent put pressure on the quarterback the whole season,” said Davis. “I kept telling him that the sacks were going to come. Now, they are coming. Trent always collapses his side of the pocket. Turnovers and sacks always come in bunches, and he is working on getting them.”
It took some time, but he finally has embraced the challenging nuances of the 3-4 scheme. The hardest part has been knowing when to check from a run to a pass play, and vice versa.
“Everybody has to buy in, everybody has to do their job, do their assignments when it comes to gametime,” Cole said. “When the moment of truth comes, everybody has to stay on their keys and everybody has to do what they have to do. I learned the way a 3-4 defense rolls is, everybody has to be disciplined, everybody has to do their job, bottom line. One mess up could cost us the game.”