Trent Cole asked me three times if I was serious.
I had a chance to chat with the Eagles' defensive end Saturday after practice and asked him how often he was double-teamed in 2009. However, I'll admit I posed my question in a manner that suggested teams didn't often give their left tackles help when facing Cole.
"My god, double teams are just natural to me now," Cole said. "Double teams are like one-on-ones."
I asked Cole to clarify what he meant by double teams. You'll often see teams send a running back or tight end to help chip on a defensive end. But it's hard to use two offensive linemen against a defensive end in a 4-3.
"I've seen it all," Cole said. "Every combination - guards, tight ends, tackle, all at the same time. I've seen guards to running backs to tight ends to tackles. If you're over there causing havoc, you're going to draw attention. That's what I want because my other teammates are going to get a chance to get that one-on-one and be able to get back there."
Does he have to get in a different mindset when he sees a double team?
"No, just go in there and maul," Cole said. "They don't call me the hunter for no reason. I'm going to maul, find any way I can to get through."
Throughout his career, Cole has certainly seen all kinds of looks. But from what I saw last year, teams tried to block him one-on-one with their left tackle more often than not.
I asked defensive coordinator Sean McDermott how often he thought teams gave their tackles help in blocking Cole last season.
"I don't know if he was double-teamed all the time, but they chipped on him a little bit [with a running back]," McDermott said. "They'd chip and then they release out into their route. I would imagine Trent sees it about 30 percent of the time, 30 or 40 percent of the time. And he does a great job with it. There's a mindset that goes along with knowing that you're going to get double-teamed a little bit, and that's what makes a great pass rusher."
I also asked our friend Bill Barnwell over at Football Outsiders if he had any numbers on double teams, and he explained that it's too complex of a concept for them to measure right now. For example, if a running back is supposed to chip on a defensive end, but the tackle has the DE contained, the RB can just go out into his route. And there's no way of measuring whether that was supposed to be a double team.
In 2009, Cole had Juqua Parker on the left side. Parker ended the season with a respectable eight sacks. And Darren Howard rushed inside in nickel situations, registering six sacks.
But the Eagles decided to focus their offseason on improving their pass rush, picking up Brandon Graham in the first round of April's draft, and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim in the third round. They also traded for Seattle's Darryl Tapp.
Graham has been by far the most impressive of the three so far. I've seen Cole giving Graham individual instruction off to the side during drills multiple times during camp.
"He's going to be a key player," Cole said. "He's got all the necessary tools to be a great pass rusher. Just has to keep his head on straight and keep doing what he's doing. Come out and practice, learn, practice like you're playing in the game. He'll be alright. He'll be good."
As for Cole, he's coming off a season in which he tied a career high with 12.5 sacks. He was also outstanding against the run.
I asked Barnwell if his numbers suggested Cole was an elite defensive end in 2009. Here's what he told me via e-mail.
Absolutely, positively, without a doubt, Trent Cole is an elite defensive lineman. He fills up the stat sheet in so many different ways. Last year, in addition to his 12.5 sacks, Cole had 41 quarterback "incidents"; either plays where he forced the quarterback into an early throw, or plays where he hit the quarterback during or just after he threw the ball. As a run defender, he ranks among the league leaders at defensive end in percentage of team plays made (15th), defeats, and Stop Rate (ninth), which are our stats that measure how frequently a lineman made a play at or behind the line of scrimmage and in key short-yardage situations. Cole is very clearly the best player on this team, and has been for the past couple of years.
Cole told me he isn't working on any new pass-rushing moves this season, but instead is trying to refine the ones already in his repertoire.
"Trying to work on my counter-moves and everything, just reacting to different situations and moves," he said, when asked what he wants to improve. "I've got Jason Peters to go against. I think he's the best in the league as an offensive tackle. It's great to have him there to go against. He's hard to get around. It just helps me every day."
Success for Cole and the defensive line will be critical for the Eagles in 2010. The Birds expect pressure up front to mask weaknesses in the secondary.
Earlier today, I wrote about the different places McDermott lined up Cole during the morning's practice, plus some other observations.
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