Audie Cole’s first NFL start began with a sack on the very first play of the game against the Greenbay Packers in week 12 of 2013. Cole finished the game with 13 total tackles earning him three more starts before a high ankle sprain sidelined him for the season finale versus the Detroit Lions.

Cole is a difficult player to evaluate because his production can be very good, but his overall athleticism and disruptive impact or “wow factor” is often underwhelming. Nonchalant, ho-hum, vanilla, old-school, tough nosed, instinctive and fundamentally sound are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind when watching Cole’s style of play.

 Audie Cole is a 6’4” 245 pound middle linebacker that the Vikings selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. Cole had a productive 4 year career at North Carolina State recording 276 total career tackles, 14 sacks, 7 forced fumbles and 1 interception.

 Unfortunately for Cole, his good production on the football field will get deluted in today’s measurement hungry and workout centered talent evaluation process. Athleticism, explosive burst, and big play potential are some intangible factors that can help tip the scale favorably for certain players… Cole is not one of those players.

           

Cole’s lack of speed and athleticism probably played a minor role in the Vikings’ decision to cut him on November 7, 2013. And certainly it was his instinctive play and consistent production that got him resigned two days later.

 Viking Nation was in a trivial state of dismay when the Vikings waived Cole from the team just before the Washington game. It was “not cool” according to Cole, but he understood that the Vikings had a reason and a plan. Luckily for the Vikings, it turned out just fine as Cole cleared waivers and a week later was thrust into the starting lineup against the Packers.

 Cole was an instant sensation at Lambeau Field in his first NFL start. One sack, three quarterback hurries, and double digital total tackles had some writers claiming Cole’s performance was the best by a Vikings linebacker all season.

 After rewatching the Greenbay and Chicago games from week 12 and 13, here’s my evaluation on Audie Cole.

 Pass Defense

Some evaluators say Cole’s lack of straight line speed might means he isn’t an ideal three down linebacker in the NFL. However, he does show good instinct when attacking the quarterback in pass rush situations, and Cole also has enough hip movement to quickly drop into coverage. When in zone coverage, the second-year linebacker seems to have an excellent understanding of where the quarterback wants to throw the ball.

As a pass rusher, Cole can quickly finding holes up the middle to put pressure on quarterbacks. Cole doesn’t earn beauty or style points as a pass rusher, but he is suprisingly effective none-the-less. Cole sack

In shallow zone coverage, Cole is very good at reading a quarterbacks eyes and sneaking into the passing lane.

GB zone

Against the Bears, Cole was not fooled by the initial underneath crossing route, instead showed great instinct by reading the play and almost grabbing a pick 6.

AC Bears

Cole can be an effective defender in pass rush situations and also when dropping back into shallow zone coverage. However, in man to man assignments, Cole can be a liability. In the clip below you can see that Cole knows his assignment, gets a good jam, turns and runs with his man, but he just doesn’t have the foot speed to stay in tight enough man coverage.

GB Man

Run Support

 Audie Cole might be underrated as an athlete, but he does have “some” natural movement skills and a great nose for the football. Cole shows good awareness, agility and a non-stop motor when pursuing ball carriers. His ability to shed blocks is OK but not great. Cole is an aggressive linebacker willing to take on blockers, but he is most effective finding holes and quickly sneaking past blockers to get to the ball carrier. His long arms, good wrap-up technique, and his ability to stay low (for a tall guy) helps him be a consistent and effective tackler. Cole is a good tackler, but I wouldn’t necessarily classify him as a hard hitter.

In the clips below, Greenbay’s backup quarterback Scott Tolzien escapes the pocket and takes off running. Cole does a great job pursing and making the tackle. The negative; Cole had the QB in his cross hairs, but couldn’t deliver a punishing hit.

tolzien hit

This clip shows Cole’s strong awareness to read and react by getting  into good position to make a play at the line of scrimmage, however, Cole’s arm tackle is broken and the runner picks up a few extra yards. After the game when reporters were praising his performance, Cole owned up to missing a couple tackles. Anyway, be sure to take notice of Cole’s knack for being able to sneak past the pulling guard. eating turf

In the below goal line situation, Cole shows enough recognition and movement skills to be in great position to shed a block and make a hit… but a lack of strength and finishing ability limited his chance to make the play. Yeah I know, #71 completely mugged him.GB goal line

In the following two plays versus the Bears, Cole once again demonstrates his good instinct and agility by skating inside and making a couple plays behind the line of scrimmage. I realize I’m being nit-picky here, but you should also notice that Cole was unable to drive the ball carriers backward when he had the opportunity. The point I’m trying to making is, the best and the worst of Audie Cole sometimes show up together in the same good play.

Bears backfield hit

Forte tackle

Audie Cole was a quarterback in high school, so it’s not like he has absolutely zero athletic ability. There’s some talent, versitility and a lot to like when watching Cole play. However, before I can anoint him as the starter, I would need to see Mike Zimmer coach him up or fix these three areas.

 * Improve on man to man pass coverage skills.

* Build more strength technique when shedding blocks.

* Add some finishing fundamentals and explosion to his tackling. Cole could be a very good player in the NFL if Zimmer can develop him into a physical nasty thumper.

Cole is not going to standout as a beast in the Vikings’ weight room, nor is he going to impress as an athlete when running 40 yard sprints on the practice field. To Cole’s advantage though, Zimmer doesn’t seem like the type of coach that gets wrapped up in the hype and potential surrounding players. He makes guys earn their jobs on the practice field. Zimmer demands that certain concepts and assignments translate onto the football field… and that just might be Audie Cole’s comfort zone.