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Battling in the Trenches

Posted May 15, 2009

Colin Cole brings skill and size to the interior for the Seahawks defense.

Colin Cole’s contract with the Seahawks came with no disclaimer about just what was going to be necessary to earn all those free-agent dollars.

None was needed. Cole is well aware of his plight as a nose tackle in the NFL.

“We don’t get a lot of glitz and glamour,” Cole said recently, between huffs and puffs after one of the Seahawks’ OTA sessions. “It is a position where you’re never going to look at the headlines and they’ll say, ‘Cole sparks the defense.’

“But at the same time, if the defense tackle is not playing well, it’s really, really hard for a defense to be successful.”

The funny thing is, Cole never intended to be a nose tackle. He played defensive end well enough they retired his number last year at South Plantation (Fla.) High School, where he also was a state champion wrestler. Cole didn’t make the move inside until his senior season at Iowa.

But when you’re 6 feet 1 and weigh 330 pounds, you play where you fit best. For Cole, that’s over the center – and directly in harm’s way.

It’s this ability to handle the down-and-dirty duties that prompted Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy to label re-signing Cole the Packers’ top priority before he became an unrestricted free agent in March – especially with the Packers switching to a 3-4 front.

“I like Cole,” McCarthy said at the NFL scouting combine in February. “If any of our guys plays very square, he does. I think he can be a nose in our scheme, and I think he has the ability to bounce outside and play end.

“He’s been a pretty versatile guy.”

Versatility among their defensive linemen also is a premium with the Seahawks. But they were looking for bulk, and decided Cole had enough that he was worth signing to a five-year, $21 million deal that includes $6 million in guarantees on the opening weekend of the free-agency period.

But why Cole? He was pretty much an under-the-radar player with the Packers, never putting up the kinds of physical numbers that seem to justify the fiscal investment the Seahawks were willing to make. He wasn’t drafted coming out of Iowa, and the Minnesota Vikings (2003) and Detroit Lions in (2004) released him before he finally found a home with the Packers – first as a member of their practice squad.

Cole heard all about it while doing radio interviews after signing with the Seahawks. That’s when it was brought up that he started only eight games in five seasons with the Packers, among other derogatory observations.

“The first question was: ‘Who is this guy?’ ” Cole said. “But it goes back to the fact that the guys in the organization here saw that just because I didn’t have that big name, I had the ability to do what they need me to do in this system.

“That’s why they brought me in here.”

Still, why Cole? Think Chuck Darby. He arrived in 2005, one of the first free-agent additions by then first-year club president Tim Ruskell.

One look at Darby’s squatty body (barely 6 feet, 297 pounds) prompted one question: What is Ruskell doing? Answer: Dropping an anchor in the middle of a defensive line that helped the Seahawks make their Super Bowl run that season.

Now, think of Cole as a bigger, younger (28) version of Darby – who signed with the Detroit Lions in free agency last year.

“That’s not a bad comparison,” Ruskell said. “Because Colin has that kind of quickness and he’s a very intelligent guy and very instinctive about the run game. He just has that knack for knowing when I make a turn here and toss this guy they’re going to be right there.

“And that is something you cannot coach. That instinct and awareness is a rare thing to find. And he’s got that.”

That’s why Cole was the Seahawks’ top priority in free agency, even if some scratched their heads over the suddenness of the signing and size of the contract. Then, that signing became lost in a flurry of activity that also saw the Seahawks sign wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, cornerback Ken Lucas and fullback Justin Griffin in free agency; add defensive lineman Cory Redding in a trade; draft linebacker Aaron Curry, offensive lineman Max Unger and wide receiver Deon Butler; and sign linebacker Leroy Hill to a long-term deal after removing his franchise tag.

The importance of landing Cole, however, was never lost on Ruskell.

“When you can get a guy at the nose who is a pillar, and even though they’re double-teaming him he does not move, and you know they’re not going to run right there, it just frees up the rest of the line,” Ruskell said.

“Colin had the traits for what we needed and what (line coach) Dan Quinn was looking for at the position.”

Cole also possesses what middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu wants in a defensive tackle – the ability to occupy blockers, so Tatupu can flow to the ball carrier.

“If we’re ever free, if you ever see one of the linebackers making a tackle for a loss by shooting the gap, it’s because the tackle took two (blockers),” Tatupu said.

“You’ve got to watch film to really appreciate what these guys are able to do. Going against physics and everything, it’s unbelievable how they’re able to get things done.”

Flattering? Definitely. The final word? Hardly.

“If I do my job well, it makes it easier for Lofa,” Cole offered, before smiling and adding, “But my goal is to steal some of those tackles before they get to him.”