Last year at this time – and the year before that – Panthers defensive tackle Colin Cole was among the millions of viewers watching NFL games Sundays and occasionally swearing at what he saw.
While fans often bemoan their team’s performance, Cole’s pain was more personal: He believed he should still be playing the game, not watching it.
“Some Sundays it’d be frustrating,” Cole said. “I’d watch and there’d be days I’d get into it, and there’d be days I’d cuss at the TV and walk away. It’s frustrating.”
After being out of football for two years, Cole is expected to make his second consecutive start Sunday at Arizona in place of the injured Dwan Edwards. Cole, an eight-year veteran, is relishing his second chance.
With Edwards dealing with a hamstring injury, Cole started against the Giants and played 17 snaps. He was credited with no tackles, but had a pressure on Eli Manning.
“Every rep that I get is a great opportunity. The last two years I was sitting at home right now. I have the opportunity to be out on the field,” Cole said Thursday. “And every chance on the practice field, in the weight room, in the classroom and obviously on game day, every chance I get to step on the field, I’m just ecstatic that I have the opportunity.
“I have a different perspective than most guys. And I’m going to take full advantage as much as I can.”
Cole, 33, was a two-year starter for the Seahawks before sustaining a serious ankle injury that required four surgeries. Seattle released him in its final roster cuts in 2011, and he spent the next two seasons looking for work.
He moved from Seattle to the Charlotte area in August last year to be closer to his wife’s family in Aiken, S.C.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Seattle, but for a good nine months out of the year it’s doom and gloom,” said Cole, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “And I just couldn’t deal with it anymore.”
Cole subscribed to NFL Sunday Ticket, and usually would tune into games involving the Panthers or any teams that had shown interest in him.
“I’d watch them and see how they were doing and how their defensive fronts were looking,” Cole said. “Just kind of doing some scouting.”
This past spring Cole cold-called the Panthers, who were familiar with him and were looking for a nose tackle. They signed him to a one-year deal worth the veteran minimum $905,000, and he made the roster as part of the defensive tackle rotation with Edwards and rookies Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.
“He’s done a nice job since he’s gotten here. He’s very professional with his approach to preparation, and it helps the young guys,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s a stabilizing force for the two young guys when they’re in there with him. At the same time when they’re both out there by themselves, he’s always got an arm around those guys in some way or another. He’s done a great job as far as being a veteran leader for those young guys when he’s out on the field with them.”
Cole said recently he believes a coaching change in Seattle, where Pete Carroll replaced Jim Mora Jr., also led to his release.
Rivera said he’s happy to see Cole taking advantage of his chance.
“One thing that you don’t ever want to have to do is leave on somebody else’s terms. This is an opportunity for him to come back and get back in the mix of things and he’s done a great job,” Rivera said. “I don’t want to use the word rebirth – I think it’s overused – but just a second opportunity. He’s taken advantage of it and he’s done a nice job with it.”
Cole, 6-foot-2 and 335 pounds, has three tackles and two pressures in three games. He’s not sure how many snaps he’ll get against the Cardinals, but he plans to make the most of them.
“I’m going to practice and prepare to play the entire game and whatever happens, happens,” Cole said. “I’m just happy to be getting the opportunity to play. I’m going to try to take advantage of every rep that I get.”
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