Tuesday, October 13, 2015

audie cole

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Photo courtesy of Vikings.com

With rookie Eric Kendricks drawing the starting assignment at middle linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings in Saturday’s third preseason game, the second-round draft pick seemed to be inching closer to securing to the starting spot many believed he would fill.

After several weeks of playing behind Audie Cole, Kendricks was getting his chance. Then Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Monday the team had decided on a starter for this week, who could potentially keep the job. Zimmer withheld names because he hadn’t told the team yet.

“I’m just trying to get through this week,” Zimmer said, indicating he knew who would start Saturday’s preseason game at Dallas. “We’ll see, if it goes good this week, then maybe we will go with it the rest of the way. If guys are playing good, they’ll keep playing and if they’re not…I just haven’t told the players yet so I don’t want to tell you.”

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Heading into the offseason, one of my biggest concerns surrounding the Vikings was the depth at linebacker. Anthony Barr missed the final four games of the year after undergoing surgery to repair a slightly torn meniscus, and veteran linebacker Chad Greenway wrapped up his worst statistical season since entering the league in 2007.  And at middle linebacker, Jasper Brinkley finished the year with 54 tackles, but left a gaping hole in the defense after signing a free agent deal with the Dallas Cowboys.

As Brent pointed out last week, though, this roster is loaded with young talent at the position, from freak athletes like Anthony Barr to late-round picks like Audie Cole. General manager Rick Spielman isn’t just drafting college’s best linebackers (see Eric Kendricks), he’s letting the coaching staff develop a few lesser-known players.

Seventh-round pick Edmond Robinson has the size and raw tools to contribute for the Vikings in the future, but will have time to grow as he sits behind Brandon Watts, Josh Kaddu, and Brian Peters. In Sunday’s game, both Watts and Peters played well against Pittsburgh’s backups, with Peters flashing his open field skills on a fumble recovery in the third quarter.

If anything, the biggest gap remains in the middle of Mike Zimmer’s unit. The players mentioned above are going to shine during the preseason, as it’s their best chance to step foot on the field and show the coaches what — special teams depth, a practice squad spot — they can bring to the team. But three in particular appear to be fighting for a chance to man the middle of the defense: Audie Cole, Eric Kendricks, and Gerald Hodges.

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A closer look at the winners and losers from the 2015 Hall of Fame Game.

Matt Engstrom Hall of Fame Game Vikings Steelers
Illustration by Matt Engstrom (mattengstrom.com)

The first game of the 2015 NFL season is officially in the books. And after travelling to Canton, Ohio and beating the Steelers in front of a predominantly black and yellow crowd, the Vikings can stand proudly and puff their chests out as the only undefeated team in the NFL. (Side note: Zimmer is still perfect in Exhibition Games and the one true Preseason Champion.)

These preseason games are critical for coaches to evaluate the players currently on their roster. It gives them a chance to see how rookies handle NFL-level opponents. Preseason games allow teammates to establish additional chemistry on the field against competition they’re not used to seeing every day in practice.

It’s also a great opportunity for hack bloggers and media types to hastily determine who’s doing good for themselves and who isn’t.

So, with this being a Vikings blog (and me being a hack blogger) let’s take a look at the winners and losers from the Hall of Fame game against the Steelers.

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Image Courtesy of Vikings.com

The Hall of Fame Game went down Sunday night in Canton, Ohio. Our Minnesota Fightin’ Vikings came out on top of the Pittsburgh Steelers 14-3 in a game that quenched the collective thirst of a the football world, even though it featured no Adrian Peterson or Ben Roethlisberger and something-called Landry Jones played the whole darn game. There’s a lot of positives and some false-negatives to pick through for our team in purple, and we do so in our first game recap show of the 2015 season.

Other “The Hall of Jerome Bettis” Talking Points Include
• Vikings defeat the Steelers 14-3
• Mick Tingelhoff love from Purple FTW! (240 straight starts!)
• Fran Tarkenton’s introduction speech was ELITE
• Adrian in full uniform, but didn’t play
• Cris Collinsworth is underrated, but…
• Teddy Bridgewater looked smooth as creamy peanut butter
• Jerick McKinnon is going to be more involved and electric
• Calm down on Trae Waynes, please.
• Remember, Xavier Rhodes was hot garbage until about Week 4 last year
• I’d rather have a cornerback who’s too aggressive & grabby than too passive
• 2nd Half was the Stefon Diggs Show
• Don’t count out Marcus Sherels yet
• MyCole Pruitt is going to be a special player
• Eric Kendricks has made Audie Cole & Gerald Hodges better via young competition
• Brian Peters love
• Special teams questions: Jeff Locke stanks
• Matt Kalil looked OK. Has some easy preseason spots to gain confidence
• Jabari Price is a G
• Adam Thielen could be legit
• I liked how TJ Clemmings looked
• Shamar Stephen & Tom Johnson are 1s going against 2s and 3s
• Joe Banyard – What could have been
• Taylor Heinicke looks smoother and more in command than Mike Kafka
Bookmark our Amazon Link to show some love!

All that and other “Brian Peters over Mike Mauti” chatter on this edition of the Purple FTW! Podcast!

An Andy Carlson Joint.

Carl: Wide Receiver
Specifically, Stefon Diggs pushing for slot and punt-return duties. The Vikings are deep at the receiver position, which means there is plenty of competition in a crowded group of pass catchers. Fifth-round pick Diggs has put together a solid camp and is poised to unseat fellow receiver Jarius Wright and punt returner Marcus Sherels for future playing time.

Mike Wallace hasn’t ran more than 100 routes out of the slot in a single season in his career, so with the release of Greg Jennings (who saw plenty of action from the slot last season), it’s likely Diggs, Wright and Adam Thielen who will continue a great battle for coveted slot position reps.

Diggs turned in one of his best performances under the lights on Saturday night at Blakeslee Stadium catching two touchdown passes. The Vikings have also given Diggs some work as a kick and punt returner in camp, after he posted impressive numbers as a return man at Maryland.

Mike Priefer has said Diggs is catching punts better now than he did in college and looks forward to giving him more opportunities as a returner.

Diggs is explosive and can get up field in a hurry once he touches the football. He is a lightning-in-the-bottle type of playmaker who could conceivably take a pre-season punt to the house and turn the pressure up on Vikings’ all-time leading punt returner, Marcus Sherels.

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