Thursday, October 23, 2008
by Mike Spofford
October 22, 2008
Last year, when defensive tackle Colin Cole got his first chance to make a significant impact on the Packers' defense, he came through, but due to an injury he was never able to build on that performance.
This year Cole is again making an impact, and he's steadily showing up more and more with each successive week.
Back in 2007, Cole was somewhat of a bit player in the Packers' defensive line rotation as a backup to the team's top three defensive tackles -- Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and Corey Williams. Through the first 10 games of the season, he was inactive twice because of a mild concussion and twice because of gameday roster decisions, and he made just eight tackles in the six games he did play.
But then Jolly went down with a season-ending shoulder injury against Carolina on Nov. 18, and with rookie Justin Harrell not yet recovered from an ankle injury, Cole immediately moved up in the rotation for the Thanksgiving game four days later in Detroit.
He responded admirably to the call, posting a season-high five tackles (three solo), plus a pass breakup, before a freak pile-up during a goal-line situation fractured his forearm, ending his season seemingly just as it was getting going.
Fast forward to this year, and injuries once again have forced a larger role on Cole than initially thought, even after Williams was traded to Cleveland in the offseason. Harrell has yet to play because of two offseason back surgeries, and end Cullen Jenkins, who would often move to tackle in passing situations, has been lost for the season to a torn pectoral muscle.
That has left Cole in essentially a three-tackle rotation with Pickett and Jolly, and the fourth-year pro is producing at the rate he likely would have last year had he not gotten hurt.
"He's been outstanding," defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn said. "The guy has been a solid performer since I've been here. He's been steady, done everything we've asked him to do.
"He's taken advantage of his opportunities this year, and has made the most of them. He's made some big plays in some key moments, and I'm extremely proud for Colin."
Cole has posted 26 tackles (15 solo) on the season, including five in each of the last three games since Jenkins went down and his workload increased. Cole's game also has evolved from being strictly a first- or second-down run-stuffer to playing any down and providing some interior pass rush when needed.
He has yet to record an official sack this season, but Cole had one two weeks ago at Seattle that was wiped out by a penalty on a teammate. Then last Sunday against Indianapolis, he got his arms around Peyton Manning's waist and was dragging him to the ground as Manning got rid of the ball.
Add to that two deflected passes in the past two games and Cole is certainly doing his part to help collapse the pocket, adding considerably to his contributions.
"The guy is playing as good as anyone up there in the front," Nunn said. "I may be wrong on this, but I think every game he's had a pressure or a quarterback hit. And he should have drawn a couple more holding calls. I think he ended up drawing one, but he certainly could have drawn a couple more.
"That's as important as pressures and hits, when you back them up. He's done an outstanding job and I've got as much confidence in him as I do anyone up there."
Cole's steady, increasing production is also a sign there are no lingering effects from the broken arm from last November.
Nunn said he really sensed Cole coming on back in Week 3, when he made one of his best plays of the season against Dallas, shedding one of the Cowboys' massive offensive linemen to get to running back Marion Barber.
"He was a little tentative at first, but that went away pretty fast," Nunn said of Cole's recovery. "That was the only thing that slowed him a little bit early was getting comfortable with sticking that thing in there after what was a pretty serious injury."
Cole played more than 40 snaps against Indianapolis, his most in quite some time. He may not be called upon for that much duty again anytime soon after the bye, as the defensive tackle depth should improve once Harrell is activated from the physically unable to perform list.
But after his season was cut short in '07, the Packers now know what they have in Cole for '08. And with everything that has occurred injury-wise on the defensive line this year, it's hard to imagine where the unit would be without him.
"I'm glad he's in a Packer uniform," Nunn said. "He's a solid performer. He's good for our meeting room, our locker room and our team as a whole, and I'm just glad we've got him."