WITH A FEW notable exceptions, pass rushing historically has been a young man's game.
In the last three years, a total of 58 edge rushers - 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers - have recorded 10 or more sacks in a season. Just seven of those 58 were 32 or older when they did it.
Late Hall of Famer Reggie White put up 12 sacks at 34 and 11 at 36 and 16 at 37. Fellow Cantonite Bruce Smith had 84 sacks after his 32nd birthday.
Kevin Greene recorded 15 sacks when he was 36 and 12 more when he was 37 before retiring. John Abraham had 11 1/2 sacks last season at age 35 and 10 the year before at 34.
But they are the exceptions, not the rule.
Trent Cole is second to White on the Eagles' all-time sack list. He has 79 in nine seasons. He has had four double-digit sack seasons, but none since 2011 when he had 11.
He will turn 32 on Oct. 5, and it's fair to wonder how much gas is left in the two-time Pro Bowler's tank.
Given that it looks like it could be a while before rookie first-round pick Marcus Smith is regularly breathing down the necks of opposing quarterbacks, and given that they likely will have just one new defensive starter - safety Malcolm Jenkins - when they face Jacksonville in their Sept. 7 season opener, the Eagles need Cole to have quite a bit of gas left in his tank.
As everyone is well aware, the Eagles had just 37 sacks last season - including a team-high eight by Cole - which was the second fewest of the 12 playoff teams. They were 31st in sacks per pass play. That they managed to win 10 games with a pass rush that impotent is loaves-and-fishes stuff.
"A lot of guys have improved," Cole said. "Last year was our first year together in this system. Now, we have a year under our belt. Everybody knows what the coaches want from them. We have a bead on things. I'm confident that we're ready to go."
Cole knows there are people out there waiting to write his NFL obituary. But he insists there still is a lot of pass-rushing life left in his soon-to-be-32-year-old body.
"I ain't lost nothing," he said defiantly yesterday after practice. "Still me. Still the same old Trent Cole.
"I've been around 10 years. You hear people saying, 'Oh, he's too old.' But the film don't lie, man. Does is look like I'm slackin' off? I'm not slackin' off.
"For the people that like to hate and all that stuff out there and doubt this and doubt that, you're just lying to yourself. You're just telling yourself a lie."
The truth, he said, is that he still is one of the league's top pass rushers.
After recording double-digit sacks in four of the previous five seasons, Cole played much of 2012 with a broken hand and had a career-low three sacks. Last year, he had to make the adjustment from a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 defensive end to a standup 3-4 outside linebacker.
He didn't have any sacks in the first eight games, but put up eight in the second half of the season, including multiple-sack games in wins over Washington, Arizona and Chicago.
According to the team's official statistics, he finished with just 15 hurries, the fewest of his career. He had 41 the year before, and 42 the year before that, which brings us back to the gas-tank question.
"I don't worry about what he thinks or she thinks or anybody thinks," Cole said. "When I go out there, I've got one goal on my mind. That's to have an impact on this team - win my one-on-ones, be sure I don't make any mistakes, and help us win games."
In 65 preseason snaps this summer, Cole doesn't have any sacks and just two hurries. But that's as significant as LeSean McCoy's 3.9 yards per carry. In the last six preseasons, Cole has a total of two sacks.
"When was the last time I had one in the preseason?" he asked. "I can't remember."
That would be 2011.
Cole, like many of the older Eagles players who have benefited from Chip Kelly's emphasis on sports science, says he never has felt better physically. If he is supposed to be staggering to the finish line of his career, it's news to him.
"I'm still movin', still rollin'," he said. "I'm not stopping no time soon. I'm coming. I feel great. This is a great place to be because the coaches are really trying to take care of you. You'd be stupid not to take advantage of it. I feel good. I feel great. Overall, my body's healthy. I ain't got old yet."
If Cole has lost anything off his fastball, it's not evident to the people who line up against him every day in practice.
"He looks as good as ever," said Evan Mathis, the Eagles' All-Pro left guard. "When you combine someone's physical talent like that with their work ethic and put them in a program like ours that really puts an emphasis on taking care of bodies, that's allowed us older guys to play like we're 22.
"I feel as good as I've ever felt, and I'm sure Trent feels the same way."
Cole got a big boost from Kevin Greene's visit to the NovaCare Complex 3 weeks ago. Greene played in the league for 15 years and recorded 160 sacks, which ranked behind only Bruce Smith (200) and Reggie White (198) as the most since it became an official stat in 1982. He spent 3 days talking and working with the Eagles' outside linebackers.
"Kevin had something for everybody," said Bill McGovern, who coaches the outside linebackers. "He had something for the young guys - how you work, how you prepare, how you set your foundation.
"But he also had something for guys like Trent, too. Kevin played when he was 37 years old. Trent, being 31, this was something for him to understand, 'Hey, this is how he had success later in his career as one of the older guys on the team.' "
Said Cole: "I get a lot of motivation from guys like that who play all the way up into their [late] 30s. Guys like Kevin and John Abraham. I could go on down the line.
"A guy [like Greene] with that many sacks, I was trying to learn anything and everything I could from him. It's more of a mentality that you have to have. A hunger. You'll do whatever you have to do to get to that quarterback, you know what I'm saying?"
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