Wednesday, August 20, 2008

DT Colin Cole valuable to Packers

The most important Packer you don't think about

By Jason Wilde

August 20, 2008

GREEN BAY -- Colin Cole might be the most important Packers player you've never heard of. Or, at the very least, hardly thought of.

With the possible exception of having seen Cole's TV ad for a Milwaukee-area personal injury law firm, you probably don't recognize his name. That's why Cole is the pitchman for Weigel, Carlson, Blau & Clemens (You can see his ad here.) instead of selling Wranglers and Sensodyne toothpaste on TV (Brett Favre), pumping his car dealership with his face on highway billboards (Donald Driver) or reminding theatergoers to silence their cell phones before a movie starts (A.J. Hawk).

Even at his position, he's overshadowed by 2007 first-round pick Justin Harrell, starters Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett and even the departed Corey Williams, whom the Packers traded in the off-season and is clamored for by many a fan (although not as much as a certain quarterback).

Not that it matters. Cole is what he is: A hard-working, unassuming guy who's really been the only player at his position the Packers have been able to count on throughout training camp.

"Cole's always there," defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn said. "You always know what you've got. Just a solid, solid guy."

While Harrell, Jolly, Pickett and Daniel Muir have all missed practice time throughout camp -- Harrell (back) and Pickett (hamstring) have yet to practice, while Jolly (hip, tooth) and Muir (ankle, groin) have been in and out of the lineup -- Cole hasn't missed a rep and figures to make his third straight preseason start Friday night at Denver.

And if Pickett isn't ready for the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings, or Jolly's July arrest for felony drug possession results in a suspension for violation of the NFL's personal-conduct or substance-abuse policies, both Nunn and defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said they'd have no reservations about starting the 6-foot-1, 330-pound Cole.

"You know what you're going to get with Cole. He's big and he's physical," Sanders said. "As far as being available and being loyal and being a guy you can really count on in there, he's been that guy."

If there was any doubt how much the Packers' value Cole, it should have evaporated when GM Ted Thompson placed the second-round restricted free-agent tender ($927,000) on him this spring. An undrafted free agent out of Iowa in 2003, Cole was waived by two other NFC North teams (Minnesota in 2003, Detroit in '04) before former Packers coach/general manager Mike Sherman signed him to the practice squad early in the '04 season.

Ever since then, Cole has faced training-camp battles for his roster spot, but he's emerged each time. Now, he's solidified himself as what Nunn calls "a valuable, valuable player" to the Packers. Nunn said Cole was "outstanding" in his first 20 snaps at San Francisco Saturday night before making some technique mistakes later in the game.

"I came into this league as an undrafted guy, and it's been a fight for me every single year I've been in the NFL," said Cole, who has played in 41 games for the Packers (eight starts). "It's always been this guy ahead of me, that guy ahead of me, and I've always had to rise above that to show what I could do.

"The biggest plus for me now is I don't have that fear looking over my back seeing how many guys are there worrying about being out on the next cut. My first couple years, I worried about that. Now I can focus more on getting better rather than trying to impress every play -- not try to do too much, just do what I'm supposed to do."

Last season, Cole played in just seven games, first because he was toward the bottom of the rotation, then because of a fractured radius in his forearm suffered against Detroit on Nov. 22, when he had five tackles after Jolly suffered a season-ending shoulder injury a week earlier.

Cole missed the rest of the year and his arm wasn't cleared for practice until camp -- he still has a five-inch scar from the surgery, during which eight screws and a plate were inserted -- but he hasn't missed a snap since.

As a result, he's not only contributing to the Packers, but he could be a popular guy on the open market next spring as an unrestricted free agent if he plays well this season.

"The two years prior, I had been upper-echelon when it came to (the rotation at) defensive tackle, but then my role backed down a little bit last year with the first-rounder (Harrell) and the fact that Johnny was playing so well," Cole said. "So it was a little difficult as my role had shifted.

"Now, I just know that Ted really likes me and really wants me to be here. And when they gave me that second-round tender, that reaffirmed that for me and gave me a lot more confidence that they saw me in the overall plans for this year and upcoming years. I believe they don't want to let me go."

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