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Cole instills fear in foes

Ask Jim Johnson or Andy Reid about cornerback Lito Sheppard or linebacker Omar Gaither and you might not get a completely honest answer these days.

Ask Jim Johnson or Andy Reid about cornerback Lito Sheppard or linebacker Omar Gaither and you might not get a completely honest answer these days.

That's called being diplomatic.

Ask the Eagles' defensive coordinator and head coach about defensive end Trent Cole and they have no problem telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

"I'd hate to block Trent Cole," Johnson said Friday. "I still think he's one of the better defensive ends in the NFL. I think he's one of the better players . . . in the NFL."

Said Reid: "He's a unique player. You don't find guys that play every snap the way he does. As coaches, you preach 110 percent and that whole deal, but this kid does it every snap. He never, never lets up."

Watch Cole week after week and there's no reason to disagree with his bosses. You can see that opposing left tackles do hate blocking him. You can tell they're exhausted by the end of the game.

None of this is surprising to Eagles tight end Brent Celek, whose introduction to Cole came as a freshman at the University of Cincinnati six years ago.

"He goes 100 percent on every play and from the day I walked in at Cincinnati I saw that and figured it out," Celek said. "He's relentless. He could go 20 plays straight and it doesn't seem like he'll ever get tired. He was a great player in college."

As well as Cole played at Cincinnati, no one envisioned what he has become in the NFL.

"When you're in college, you don't get to see what defensive ends in the NFL look like, so when you see him, you think he might be a little too small," Celek said. "I just thought they were going to put him at linebacker. Once they put him at D end, I knew he was going to be good."

Cole is better than good. He's great, and not just at rushing the passer.

Most NFL scouts had Cole pegged as an outside linebacker because they didn't think he was big enough to be a run stopper.

"I was a 225-pound guy coming into the league and you're trying to play against some guys who are two times your size," he said. "I understood what they were saying."

The scouts were wrong. Cole is a terrific run stopper. His nine tackles for losses are tied with Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs and Chicago defensive end Alex Brown for the most in the league. Cole led the NFL in that department last season with 10.

He's not impressed with that statistic. He'd prefer to have more sacks.

"The sack is always going to be better," Cole said. "It's more enjoyable. That's what people love to see. It's that feeling when you're closing in on the quarterback that you really love. It's the greatest feeling ever."

After registering a career-high 12½ sacks last season, Cole has just seven going into tomorrow night's game with the Cleveland Browns. According to the team's statistics, he also has a team-leading 14 quarterback hurries, six more than he had last season.

Johnson said the hurries are fine with him, especially since he also contributes with the tackles for losses.

"[Sacks] come in bunches," Johnson said. "I thought he almost had a couple the other day against the Giants. They'll come. I know there are only a few games left, but he's fine. He's still one of the top guys as far as negative yardage in the run game, too, so you know he's getting great penetration."

Cole said he thinks even less of hurries than he does about tackles for losses.

"I wish they were sacks," he said. "That's how I feel about that. I'd rather have them be sacks. A hurry is not going to stop a completion or keep a ball from going down field. I don't care about hurries or pay any attention to them. You hear about hurries, but they don't matter to me."

Cole conceded that getting sacks has become more of a challenge because of the extra attention he receives. It's obvious that teams plan for him and he sees more than his share of double teams.

"It definitely has been more difficult to get to the quarterback this year," he said. "You have to fight a lot harder, play a lot different. You have to change your game up. I've done that this season. I altered things a little bit in the second half. When you're seeing double teams, you have to alter your play."

Cole's most impressive play in the Eagles' upset of the New York Giants a week ago came on special teams when he leapfrogged over guard Chris Snee and long snapper Jay Alford to block a John Carney field goal early in the second quarter.

"I decided I'm going over," Cole said. "I don't think anybody expected me to jump over them from my four-point stance. They might be looking for a guy coming in standing up . . . but they weren't expecting that."

Special teams coordinator Rory Segrest said the Eagles had seen San Francisco linebacker Manny Lawson do something similar against the Giants earlier this year.

"We just felt like their guards played really low inside," Segrest said. "It was just great execution by Trent; a great athletic move on his part."

It was the kind of move that made Eagles safety Brian Dawkins shake his head.

"He has a knack for the ball and a knack for making plays," Dawkins said. "You saw the field goal he blocked. I don't even know if he practiced that or he just did it. That's the difference in being a playmaker. He didn't think about it. It's just something he felt like doing and he did it. You can try to teach those things, but for him it's second nature."

In Dawkins' mind, Hugh Douglas remains the best defensive end he has played with during his 13 seasons in Philadelphia, but his respect for Cole is clearly growing.

"I think he definitely has room for improvement," Dawkins said. "As good as a defensive end he is, he has room for improvement and if you're an opposing team, that's a scary thing."