Friday, October 24, 2008

Consistent Cole earning his keep

Making positive impact


October 24, 2008

Green Bay - Minus any fanfare, unheralded Colin Cole has been the Green Bay Packers' most reliable and productive defensive tackle through the first seven games.

These are heady heights indeed for Cole, the deep-thinking former free agent from Iowa. Since arriving in Green Bay as a December fill-in in 2004, he has outlasted three players that the Packers expected to render him expendable and is moving into position to secure a long-term contract.

“Right now, I’m just happy being in the NFL,” Cole said this week. “I wasn’t drafted coming out, so I know what it’s like to not have an opportunity and not have a job. I hope to be here with the Packers for the rest of my career.”

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, Cole should attract interest if he sustains his current level of play and the Packers don’t re-sign him.

Not only has Cole become more stout at the point of attack, he is providing a degree of pass rush which, for his girth, undoubtedly has drawn notice across the league.

“All three of the D-tackles have been effective but Cole probably has been the most consistent,” said position coach Robert Nunn. “He’s taken advantage of his opportunity. He’s a steady hand.”

After Aaron Kampman, Johnny Jolly ranks second in playing time among defensive linemen at 70.2%. Ryan Pickett (53.2%) is third and Cole, whose 50.3% is the highest of his career, is fourth.

Cole attributes his increased production to the simple fact that he’s playing more. It was just 12 months ago, Cole reminded a listener, that he was inactive for two games despite being healthy.

“That uncertainty caused me to feel like, ‘Well, if I get in, I have to make a play,’ ” said Cole. “ ‘If I don’t, they’re going to take me out, or whatever.’ This year, not having that pressure and not putting that pressure on myself, I can just be cool, calm and let stuff come to me.”

The primary responsibility for a defensive tackle in coordinator Bob Sanders’ scheme is staying square against the run. Previously, Cole had a few too many plays in which he would be turned or buckled.

Cole, who stands just 6 feet 1½ inches, is playing about 10 pounds heavier than ever before at 328. He ranks with center Scott Wells as the strongest player on the roster, so power never has been a problem.

“I haven’t given up much movement at all this year,” he said. “Guys have to respect the fact that they can’t move me off the ball as well.”

Nunn called Pickett the best of the three at holding the point of attack but said Cole shows the most gap discipline, the area in which Jolly most needs improvement.

But Cole is doing more than just holding his ground. He also has 26 tackles in 241 snaps, a tackle-per-snap average of one per 9.27. That trails only Pickett’s unit-leading mark of one every 7.97 but is better than Jolly’s one every 11.59.

“Johnny can shed a block quicker and go make a play in the backfield,” said Nunn. “Colin may not make plays beyond the line, but it’s going to be a 1- or 2-yard gain. When he does get knocked off, he bounces off and makes a play.”

Until now, Cole basically had been categorized with most men his size as a non-pass rusher. A poor 40-yard dash time (5.27 seconds) at the 2003 combine helped deep-six his chances to be drafted, and he doesn’t have the quick twitch most successful interior rushers have.

But then, almost inexplicably, Cole finished as the best pass rusher in the one-on-one rush segments during August after ranking a lowly ninth in 2007. And he has followed it up with seven hurries and one knockdown in the first seven games, a total of eight “pressures” that ranks third behind Kampman (20) and Cullen Jenkins (16½).

Cole is averaging one “pressure” every 30.13 snaps, far better than Jolly and Pickett and the fourth-best mark on the line. Cole’s career high is one every 51.11 snaps in 2005.

“He’s shown up every game,” said Nunn. “He does a good job with leverage and getting on the edge of guys when pass shows.”

Flushes by Cole were partially responsible for sacks by Kampman against Dallas and by Charles Woodson against Seattle. Cole whipped Seahawk guard Floyd Womack for a clean sack but lost it due to a penalty.

“I can give them the bull but I can also give them moves on the edge that give them fits,” Cole said. “I’m using my hands better. I’m also more explosive than I’ve been.”

A pragmatist, Cole understands what the organization has invested in Justin Harrell and desires to see him play soon. But since the days in February that the Packers traded Corey Williams and then gave him the second-round restricted-free agent tender ($1.417 million) rather than the low tender ($927,000), Cole says he knew the club was serious about him.

“You know what?” said Cole. “What it comes down to is, the team wants to win. You’re not going to sacrifice trying to get somebody’s feet wet for winning. It’s not going to happen.”

Cole also is keenly aware that teams always are trying to replace backups. He was supposed to be beat out by James Lee and Donnell Washington in the summer of 2005, by Kenderick Allen in the summer of 2006 and by Harrell in the summer of 2007.

All but Harrell are out of football, and Cole believes that the first-round pick still will have to prove himself.

“Colin’s always in good shape,” said Nunn. “Good for our football team, good for our locker room. He’s an outstanding player and I’m glad he’s here.”

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