Cole: Panthers want to break sack record

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Apparently, Greg Hardy isn't the only member of the Carolina Panthers defense with lofty -- and perhaps farfetched -- sack goals.

Defensive tackle Colin Cole says the focus after Carolina collected a team-record 60 sacks last season is to set an NFL single-season record in 2014.

Asked if he knew what that was, the 34-year-old player Cole wiped the sweat off his face and admitted he didn't. Neither did I for sure until I looked it up. It was the 1984 Chicago Bears.

They had 72.

Now collecting 13 more sacks than last season may not sound insurmountable. It's certainly not as unrealistic as Hardy setting his personal goal for 50, which is more than twice the NFL single-season record of 22.5 that Michael Strahan had in 2001.

But when you consider over the last 10 years that only the 2006 San Diego Chargers with 61 had more than Carolina last season, and that NFL rules changes give offensive linemen more leeway in their using hands to protect the passer, 13 more might as well be 130 more.

What the Bears did in 1984 is considered by some to be one of those records that never will be broken. But the Panthers are talking about it, and as Cole said, "If you don't talk about it, you don't bring it into fruition.''

Carolina coach Ron Rivera is very familiar with the record. He was a rookie linebacker with the Bears in '84, so he saw firsthand how it was accomplished even though he didn't contribute directly to it.

He reminded how the Bears were implementing Buddy Ryan's innovative "46 defense'' that blitzed ... well, a lot. Then there were the great players on that defense like Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael, Mike Singletary and Wilber Marshall.

Dent led the way with 17.5 sacks, followed by Hampton with 11.5 and McMichael with 10. Thirteen players had at least one sack, with eight getting three or more -- including Singletary with 3.5.

The Bears also had a talented secondary that included former Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. Rivera noted how Ryan set a goal for that unit to give the front seven at least 2.4 seconds to get to the passer.

"It was really the perfect storm in terms of personnel,'' Rivera said.

Rivera also noted how the rules have changed to favor the blockers.

But if Cole and his teammates want to set their sights on breaking the record, he's not going to tell them they can't do it.

"The nice thing is our guys have that kind of confidence,'' Rivera said. "We have some good pass-rushers. That's what it is. You have to have a combination.''

Sixteen different Panthers had at least one sack last season. Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy led the way with 15, followed by Charles Johnson with 11.

Cole had only one.

But if Cole can improve his total by one and everybody else does as well, then the record would fall. That Carolina has its entire front seven back with the addition of second-round draft pick Kony Ealy as another threat makes Cole even more optimistic.

"The goal is to surpass that and get up there with the big dogs of the past years,'' he said. "We want to set records as well.''

A few teams have come close. The 1989 Minnesota Vikings had 71 sacks and the 1987 Bears had 70.

Rivera actually contributed in '87 with one sack, but that wasn't his responsibility in Ryan's scheme.

"I was what they called the sacrificial lamb,'' he said. "I was the one that ran right into the double team. I was the magnet. I would just run into this big pileup and get blowed up.''

The Panthers don't blitz nearly as much as the Bears. Many of their sacks came out of the base defense.

That makes 72 seem even more unattainable.

"For us as a defensive line, that's where our goal is,'' Cole said. "Maybe that's just me talking on my behalf. But if you don't shoot for the stars, you'll never reach the moon.''