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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cole Shows Packers His Merit



By LORI NICKEL
lnickel@journalsentinel.com

Posted: Aug. 16, 2006

Green Bay - It's not always about money. Some know their worth is best measured in other ways.

But the fact is, Ryan Pickett is a $14 million free-agent defensive tackle with a reputation and a recognizable name, and he was brought in to replace Grady Jackson and assume the anchor position for the Green Bay Packers' defense.

"They're going to sign guys every year, and I'm not a guy who is going to expect to be given anything," Colin Cole said. "Last year was just my first year playing full time, so I didn't expect them to sell the house on me and expect that I was going to be 'the guy.' I knew coming in that I would have to prove myself again. It doesn't make a difference. If I go out there and perform the way I know how to, the chips will fall the way I hope."

"Our defense starts and ends with the defensive tackles," Cole said. "Even though we have the cornerbacks, safeties, linebackers, if our defensive tackles don't play the way we're supposed to play, then the linemen block our linebackers, our safeties, and we're not going to play very well."

The defensive line didn't have the best performance in the Packers' exhibition season opening, a 17-3 loss Saturday night at San Diego. Worse still, a position that had such depth a few days ago might be weakened. Pickett and Kenderick Allen, another free agent added to bolster the defensive line, suffered injuries.

The 26-year-old Cole has had a good training camp thus far. The staff has called him the best run-stuffer on the team.

"He's probably been the most consistent interior lineman to this point," coach Mike McCarthy said last week. "I know the coaches are very satisfied with him. He's staying square, playing with good hand placement, things like that."

A year ago, Cole began the year far back on the depth chart, but one by one leapfrogged Donnell Washington and James Lee, and he made Cletidus Hunt a memory. Cole played in all 16 games, starting four, and had 62 tackles for the one bright spot of 2005: the Packers' seventh-ranked defense.

At Minnesota, he had two sacks and knocked down two passes. He had seven tackles against Cincinnati and five against Atlanta, where he got a good pressure against quarterback Michael Vick. One of his sacks in the season finale against Seattle was negated because of an offside penalty. He had the fifth most snaps, about 30 to 35 a game, on a unit that rotated liberally.


"Last year we had a pretty good rotation. Everybody got in and contributed," Cole said. "We have enough guys that we're able to roll in and keep everyone fresh. That helps us out a lot."

Then Cole spent much of the off-season in Green Bay, where he relocated with his wife and 13-year-old stepson, and he took full advantage of the off-season workout program. He trimmed down 10 pounds by cramming fruit and yogurt into a blender for smoothies that he used to replace breakfasts or lunches.

The weight loss should help Cole on the line, even though his position has historically been held by Packers 50 pounds heavier like Jackson and Gilbert Brown.

McCarthy wants his defensive tackles to act as anchors in the middle. This is not universal in the NFL. Tampa Bay and Chicago, for example, want speedy defensive linemen who are quick off the ball. But Green Bay's defense, which no longer really has the so-called three-technique defensive lineman, is designed to have two anchors in the middle who will command the attention of the offensive line. Their job is to absorb double-teams and keep the offensive linemen off the linebackers, so Nick Barnett can make plays.

Pickett is listed at 322 pounds but he weighs 10 pounds more. Allen is 328 at 6-foot-5. They're both mountains. But Cole has held up the double-teams and stopped the run better than anyone so far.

"You don't have to be 400 pounds, 350 or anything like that," Cole said. "If you have good pad level, good leverage, regardless how much you weigh, you can anchor the inside. I have the ability because I am a lot stronger in my lower body, but at the same time, I'm not as heavy, so I can move just as quickly as the other D-linemen."

If Cole continues his progression this season, then maybe he'll land a big contract as a free agent at the end of the season.

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