Leslie Frazier: Audie Cole 'did a really good job' in first start
NOV 26, 2013 1:15p ET
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- On the first play from scrimmage in his first NFL start on Sunday, Minnesota Vikings second-year linebacker Audie Cole tried to fill the hole to stop Green Bay’s rookie running back Eddie Lacy.
Once Cole got through the offensive line almost untouched, he noticed Lacy didn’t have the ball. Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien had gone play-action and stepped back to look for receivers down field. Cole quickly diagnosed the play and went after Tolzien, who ducked to try and avoid Cole but was the victim of Cole’s first NFL sack.
Cole had been waiting for his chance to get on the field for Minnesota in defensive situations. He never left the field Sunday after his big play to start the game.
Making his debut in place of Erin Henderson, who was out while attending to a personal matter, Cole played every defensive snap in Sunday’s 26-26 tie against Green Bay. Now he could be looking at more playing time going forward after leading the Vikings with 13 tackles. Cole added two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits.
“I tell you, he did a really good job yesterday for us,” coach Leslie Frazier said Monday. “To step in, he hasn’t had any true game experience other than the preseason at that position, so it was encouraging to watch the way he moved around and some of the plays he made.”
Henderson was back at the team facilities on Monday and is expected to return to practice this week. Cole did enough Sunday for coaches to talk about an increased role going forward.
“We’re going to talk about it this afternoon as a staff and just see what’s best,” Frazier said. “But he did some things to make you take a hard look at where we are.”
Cole, a 2012 seventh-round draft pick out of North Carolina State, had been limited mostly to special times in his two years with the Vikings. He splashed in the preseason in 2012 when he returned two interceptions for touchdowns in one game against Buffalo.
Yet, he was behind Jasper Brinkley at middle linebacker and played in five games his rookie season. Once Brinkley signed with the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason, the Vikings moved Henderson to the middle from the weakside where he had started the previous two seasons.
Frazier didn’t completely rule out moving Henderson back to weakside and having Cole start in the middle. Minnesota has been searching for a standout weakside linebacker since moving Henderson. The Vikings drafted Gerald Hodges in the fourth round this year. Desmond Bishop appeared to be earning more chances before a season-ending injury. Marvin Mitchell has started the most games for Minnesota at the position.
Frazier said Cole could also be a possibility on the outside and has some experience practicing there.
“When we sit down this afternoon and just talk about what we’re going to do for this opponent, we’ll probably talk about what’s the best scenario to get the best 11 on the field,” Frazier said. “We’ll have to determine if Audie will be one of those 11 or how we’ll do it. It’s hard for me to answer that right now.”
Henderson leads the Vikings in tackles and tackles for loss and is tied for the team high with two interceptions this season. Frazier was hesitant to compare Henderson’s play with Cole’s performance on Sunday.
“Erin has done a good job for us throughout the year at the middle linebacker position,” Frazier said. “It’s a new position for him. He’s always been an outside ‘backer for us, and as the season has gone on, he’s gotten better at that position. In comparison, it’s hard to compare one game versus in Erin’s case, 10 games at the position. But Audie did a good job for the one game that he was lined up at the ‘Mike’ linebacker.”
Cole getting a start would have been highly unexpected a few weeks ago. Left shorthanded because of injuries and needing a backup offensive tackle for the Thursday night game against Washington, Minnesota waived Cole to make room for tackle Kevin Murphy on the active roster.
Cole cleared waivers and was re-signed two days after the game, with Murphy headed back to the practice squad. Cole said the team told him they wanted to bring him back, but it didn’t make being released any easier.
“Obviously it’s still not cool, it’s not what you want to happen,” Cole said last week. “I understand why they did it, someone had to go. I wish it wasn’t me, but it was. You’ve just got to take it. It sucked, I came back and things have been going good for me lately.”
Cole said he felt prepared for Sunday’s start and didn’t feel the pressure of making his first NFL start. Cole was also responsible for making the defensive play calls and helping the defense get set up in the right spots. He filled Henderson’s role in the nickel defense and played all 94 defensive snaps as well as 12 special teams plays.
“Probably mentally,” Cole said of where he’s improved the most since being drafted in the seventh round. “I understand what they want out of me and want they want out of the defense. When I first got here, I didn’t really know what was going on. I thought I did but I didn’t. And it’s not like it just happened one day, just kind of over time looking back now, it’s a big difference but I never realized the difference while it was happening.”
Frazier didn’t plan to play Cole every snap on Sunday. Rookie Michael Mauti had pulled ahead of Cole on the depth chart when he was released, but some tenderness in Mauti’s surgically-repaired knee gave Cole another opening.
“We talked about it during the week, knowing what Michael Mauti’s situation was coming off an injury, that if Audie played well early, we stayed with him, see how he’s doing,” Frazier said. “It seemed the more he played, the more plays he made so there was no reason to sub him. He did a good job.”
Practice squad change: Minnesota announced on Tuesday it released offensive lineman Jamaal Johnson-Webb from the practice squad to make room for defensive back Kip Edwards.
Edwards, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound cornerback, was signed by the Buffalo Bills in April as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri. He spent time this season on the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad.
The Vikings had signed offensive lineman Mike Remmers to the active roster on Monday, replacing the open spot created by releasing cornerback A.J. Jefferson following a Monday arrest. With Jefferson’s release, Josh Robinson’s fractured sternum and Xavier Rhodes’ concussion, Minnesota was short at cornerback.
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