“Nick Cole knows what it’s like to be counted out.
Undrafted coming out of New Mexico State in 2006, Cole was at the back of the pecking order when it came to practice repetitions and had to work his way onto the Eagles by showing what he could do in preseason games.
“It’s a lot tougher than it is just getting drafted,” said Cole, a bowling-ball-shaped lineman who also plays guard. “You’ve got a lot more to prove.”
Four years later, Cole will enter training camp next week as the favorite to be the Eagles’ Week 1 starter at center, a critical position for the offense and new quarterback Kevin Kolb.
Much of the offense’s success depends on the team finding a capable replacement for Jamaal Jackson, the anchor of the offensive line who is recovering from tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 27. Jackson will miss all of training camp and is widely expected to sit out at least some, if not most, of the regular season.
The contenders to fill in, along with Cole, are Mike McGlynn, who is entering his third year in the NFL but did not see any playing time in 2009, and A.Q. Shipley, a Penn State product who spent last season, his rookie year, on the Steelers’ practice squad.
Despite Jackson’s injury, the Eagles did not add any experienced linemen in the off-season.
“We’re comfortable,” coach Andy Reid said. “We’ve got Nick, who can step in there, and I’ve worked McGlynn and Shipley.”
The team’s many offensive-line injuries last year gave the backups and starters experience working with shuffled lineups.
“They’ve all played so much, and we’ve had success with so many different combinations,” Reid said, dismissing concerns about continuity and chemistry on the line.
But the Eagles struggled without Jackson, most notably in two season-ending blowouts to Dallas. In the nearly three full games after Cole replaced Jackson, the Eagles gave up 11 sacks and rushed for just 169 yards.
It’s not yet clear when Jackson will return. Reid said Jackson would miss all of training camp and conceded that it would be a “stretch” for him to be ready for the team’s Sept. 12 opener.
Cole, the most experienced of the contenders, has the best shot to win the starting job in Jackson’s absence.
“They’re all going to compete. Nick’s a good player, though,” Reid said.”