Washburn: Fewer snaps made Cole better

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Jim Washburn likes to rotate his defensive linemen with two groups. The Eagles have rotated linemen for years, but defensive end Trent Cole hardly came off the field before Washburn arrived last year.

“He told me when I first got here, ‘I ain’t rotating,’” Washburn said Tuesday at Eagles training camp. “Said it right up there in that meeting room. I said, ‘Yes, you are … or your ass ain’t going to play.’ He’s a great kid, Trent.”

Cole, in the end, did rotate. He did not have his best season statistically speaking, but Cole may have been his most productive in 2011. Washburn said it was because Cole had his snaps cut significantly. In the two years prior to Washburn joining the Eagles, Cole seemed to be wearing down late in the season.

“The comments I did hear about him in the past before I got here from everybody was how his production dropped off at the end of the year,” Washburn said. “But I knew playing two groups, as we did – I think his snaps were 59 percent – he ended up getting six sacks in the last four games or something like that.”

Cole actually played 68.7 percent, according to ProFootballFocus.com, and notched six sacks in the final five games. But the numbers still showed a significant drop in the number of snaps he played, and in turn, an increase in sacks down the stretch.

In 2009, Cole played 1,031 of 1,208 (85. 3 pct.) defensive snaps for the Eagles. He opened the season with 7-1/2 sacks in eight games and finished with five in the final eight. It was the last year he was voted into the Pro Bowl. In 2010, he played 963 of 1,077 (89.4) snaps. He started the season with seven sacks in eight games and ended it with just three in seven. Andy Reid sat Cole for the meaningless finale in preparation for the playoffs.

And then last year Washburn arrived and Cole played in only 640 of 932 (68.7) snaps. He had five sacks in his first nine games – sitting for games 5 and 6 because of a calf injury – and tallied six in the final five.

Getting sacks is just one facet of playing the position. Cole is also one of the best run-stopping ends in the league. But the numbers show that he benefitted from playing less snaps last season and the Eagles, in turn, got more bang for their buck, especially late in the year.

Cole was rewarded for his consistent play when the Eagles extended his contract through the 2017 this offseason. He probably won’t see the end of a deal that long, but playing fewer downs should increase his shelf life.

“It works,” Washburn said. “He was worn out, played a lot of snaps because he wanted to play them.”

Cole is expected to report to camp on Wednesday with the rest of the Eagles’ remaining veterans.