[NOTE FROM ADAM:  Brent Butler approached me with some questions regarding the media coverage of the Vikings linebacker spot and the lack of respect shown to Audie Cole.  I thought his email to me was coherent enough, and on a topic worthy of discussion, so I encouraged him to reformat his email into an article and send it my way.  This is the result.  Enjoy!]

By Brent Butler

Why isn’t Audie Cole a leading candidate for one of the three starting linebacker spots by the media?

I know he’s been mentioned as a competing candidate, but I don’t hear anyone saying he’s a leading candidate. Regardless of all the chatter around the Vikings linebacker competition; Chad Greenway, Anthony Barr and Audie Cole are the leading candidates for  the three starting spots coming into training camp this year. Few people question Greenway as a starter, and most people think Barr will start, but no one is talking about Audie Cole as a leading candidate in the media and I don’t know why.

In Cole’s four games last year, he had 42 tackles and 25 solos. If you project those stats over a whole season he’d have 168 tackles and 100 solos. That would put him as the 2nd leading linebacker in the league and 7th in solo’s.

He played lights out in the sad, sad sister-kisser last year to Green Bay. He also had that outstanding back-to-back pick-six preseason game against buffalo as a rookie. Overall he’s also played well in preseason games the past two seasons. Plus, is it just me or does he look like he has a lot of promise in coverage, especially matching up against bigger tight ends?  He has a tall frame and I think he does well getting in his drops to match up against tight ends. Put that Green Bay game on again and just watch him. Zimmer loves length in players. Cole is 6’and 5.”

Okay, this might be a little crazy, but imagine with me if we could convert Audie’s linebacker stats into quarterback stats. If we had a quarterback put up stats like Cole did over the course of four games, and play lights out against Green Bay with no poor showings over four games, he would be the unquestioned leading quarterback candidate to start coming into the 2014 season. It’s not like the Vikings have Drew Brees or even a token Andy Dalton on the roster.

Let’s go with this idea a little further. Imagine with me that we yank Matt Cassel’s Carolina, Seattle, Cinncinatti and Detroit games from his record last year and just keep his Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Philly and Chicago games. I know, wouldn’t that be nice! If that was the situation don’t you think everyone would be saying “who’s Teddy Bridgewater?” We might be having a “quarterback competition” but everyone would project Cassel to start this year. Instead no one is that confident in Cassel, and rightfully so. Cassel put up really really poor showings in those four games making us all have some doubts about him. But, if we just had Cassel’s four great games we would be really excited to see what he could do in 16 games. As far-fetched as that fictitious situation sounds, that’s similar to the situation we have with Cole, except that Cole is just 25 years old and plays linebacker.

Almost every writer talking about the Vikings LB competition mentions Brinkley, Mauti and Hodges in the same breath as Cole. Mauti and Hodges might be really good actually, but they are second year players with no NFL experience. Brinkley is a proven two down linebacker, not a three down guy, and struggles in coverage. I certainly understand why Zimmer doesn’t come out and say who the leading candidates are, because he wants competition. Everyone loves that! I love that!

But, to me, it’s really an oversight by the media to not project Cole as a favorite to start with Greenway and Barr.

It does seem pretty reasonable to see the Vikings rotating linebackers, but on the first snap of opening day against St. Louis we are going to see Chad Greenway, Anthony Barr and Audie Cole on the field.

So training Camp Competition at LB?  Yes.

But, is it true that there are no real favorites beyond Greenway and Barr?  I think the answer is clearly “no.”

Looking at Audie Cole’s size, youth, and performance since his rookie season makes projecting our starting linebackers less difficult than what most people are making it out to be.

Barring injuries, tell me I’m wrong come opening day.

Extra Note:

It’s a little harder to predict who will play the specific positions WLB, SLB, and/or MLB before training camp. We don’t know exactly how the Viking linebackers look in Zimmer’s new defense. Even though they have been working Cole at SLB in OTA’s, I still think they will bring him back to the middle. Zimmer likes his linebackers to be versatile. Most people think Barr will be at SLB, and I think they will put Greenway at WLB and SLB when they move Barr around. Hodges, Mauti, Brinkley will get thrown in a few reps here and there, because they will move Barr around to put him in favorable match ups.

Adam Warwas (Founder) is a case study in how the human male can allow a hobby to turn into a life-consuming obsession. After serving for about three years as the Editor at Vikings Gab, he decided to branch off on his own and start Vikings Territory, hoping someone might accidentally visit the site from time to time. Now, he is thrilled to present you with one of the most comprehensive and analytical Vikings sites that you are going to find. More than anything, he hopes you enjoy reading VT as much as he enjoys putting it together.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Cole only really played in 4 games, but that included 2 OT games. He played 332 snaps, which is more like 1/3 of a season than 1/4. So you probably want to multiply his stats by 3, not 4

    Cole was terrible against the run in the Lambeau game, got pushed around and missed several tackles on Eddie Lacy. He did some nice work rushing the passer.

    I wasn’t very impressed with him in coverage. He did make some nice tackles in space to wrap up on underneath throws and prevent a first down. But he allowed the game winning TD in the Ravens game, just over his fingertips, despite being tall.

    I think Cole would be better off as a OLB, rushing the passer and playing in space. He’s not the guy you want coming downhill into the hole against a RB with a head of steam. Mauti might be able to win the job, but I predict it’ll be Brinkley as a 2-down MLB.

    Unfortunately for Cole, Greenway probably has the WLB spot sewn up. That leaves him to compete with Barr at SLB.

    Cole could still get plenty of reps. Could see Greenway/Cole as the off-LOS LBs in nickel, with Barr up at the line as a pass rusher, either standing as a rush OLB or with his hand in the dirt as a DE. Plus if Barr doesn’t show enough consistency to get on the field in the base defense early in the year, you might see Cole at SLB.

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  2. 16 games in a season divided by 4 games he played in. He did play in 4 games. Thats a quarter of the season not a third. Those 4 games were the only stats I used to project him as a top 10 LB in terms of stats.

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    • Only 6 ILBs in the league played more than 1100 snaps last year, another 11 played 1000-1099 snaps.

      Cole played 332 snaps, 4 full games (both with long OT periods) plus parts of 2 others.

      Multiplying that total by 4 gives him 1328 snaps, which is 150 more than any other ILB in the league last year. It’s also 150 more snaps than the Vikings defense played last year.

      150 snaps is about 2 extra games worth, so you’re basically projecting his numbers after playing every snap of an 18 game season.

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  3. If Cole doesn’t make his mark in the upcoming season, it isn’t likely to happen. New coach, new defense and a new scheme should give Cole, Hodges, and Mauti a shot at playing. Preseason games are going to be important this year for linebackers, and corners.

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  4. Lb is the glaring weakness of this team and the author is correct that Audie is as good a choice as any, but that’s the problem. Audie is popular with fans because of his big plays in the pre season and Green Bay. I question the notion that a guy can have a nose for big plays, but it could be Audie has that. Other than that hope I know he’s a decent and long armed zone defender but pretty lousy at the other aspects of linebackering.

    All that being said, he’s a far better choice than Jasper Brinkley, who’s only real talent seems to be that sports writers remember him.

    Chad greenway is another fan/writer’s favorite whose recent body of work doesn’t justify his reputation, salary, or assumption of being a quality starter. I hope greenway’s recent performance is due to injuries and he plays healthy and effectively, but time and NFL wear and tear make this hope nearly futile. That being said, Greenway is a starting LB on this team by default.

    Barr is interesting, because he seems like a natural rushing olb in a 3-4, but is a weird 4-3 fit. In this case we are putting a ton of faith in Zimmer’s scheme to incorporate a 4-3 olb as the 5th rushing defender. Von miller’s name gets dropped here but I’m reluctant to accept that since Barr seems mediocre in run defense and ignorant of pass defense. Removing pass defending LBs seems like a disaster for our thin secondary talent. But till the honeymoon is over, in Zimmer we trust.

    Mauti is my personal choice to win team best LB designation, but limited exposure is a real concern. So are the guy’s three ACL tears. Even if I’m right, can his knees endure NFL contact for very long?

    Hodges did nothing last year. That leaves me completely cold towards him and his prospects of contributing.

    Barring some magical scheme that defies my understanding of defense, the vikings will be incredibly weak at LB and will struggle to be a league average defense as dense teams attack the LB’s directly and clever teams bait and trap more talented players trying to cover for their deficient LB teammates.

    I hope Zimmer’s scheme will overcome my doubts, but I wouldn’t put any money on The vikings being a top 25 defense.

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  5. Good read. I think the younger LBers were held back due to Frazier’s leadership style of being very low key and relying on veterans to sell the message and enforce the locker room. This left him too willing to let these vets get comfortable even with less then average play and kept young players from getting real chances to challenge for game time. For better or worse young LBers, CBs, Safety, and QBs will get real chances to see the field.

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  6. I think Audie Cole is who we thought he was. A 7th round draft pick who seems to be good depth.
    I don’t think using tackle numbers is a good way to determine if a player is doing a good job.
    There are many things to consider about those numbers.
    First, you have to look at when and where they get those tackles. Arif did a very fine write up about Greenway where he talks about the fallacy of using tackle stats as a justification for good play.
    It will be interesting to see how it shakes out this year. I hope Audie Cole gets every opportunity to compete.

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