Wednesday, January 28, 2015
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michael mauti

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Just two short weeks ago, while prioritizing my view on the offseason needs of the Minnesota Vikings, I placed inside linebacker at the top of the list and wrote this sentence:

Audie Cole and Michael Mauti have plenty of fan support, but it just seems like they are not destined for stardom.

Well, maybe I jumped the gun a little there.  Maybe, just maybe, I underestimated how much perception could change over the course of two (or one, really) NFL football game.

In Week Seventeen, against an uninspired and lackluster Chicago Bears team, Audie Cole filled in for Chad Greenway and the results were genuinely impressive.  In fact, I would personally go so far as to say Cole had one of the best linebacker performances we’ve seen since Antoine Winfield’s prime (I still stand by my assertion that Winfield was more linebacker than corner).

Cole received a higher game grade (+7.8) from Pro Football Focus than Greenway ever has in his career and, from what I can tell, is the highest grade given to a player of the same position all year.  That, to say the least, is a pretty impressive “next man up” effort.

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[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.

It has been too long. I won’t bore you with reasons for my absence as none of the excuses are legitimate. Instead, I want to jump right back into being a more involved writer here at Vikings Territory. There have been quite a few things happening behind the scenes here at VT. We’ve definitely evolved in the quality and quantity of content. Above and beyond that, a complete redesign of the entire site should be making its way to all of you soon.

Enough of that, though.

We’re going to start a new reoccurring post here at Vikings Territory. It’s a pretty simple concept. Every week or so I will host various people out there on the interwebs and ask them a series of questions for them to respond to. The questions may be regarding a recent Vikings news talker. It might be an off-the-wall question that has nothing to do with the Vikings. Sometimes there may be a theme to the questions. Other times there won’t. Who knows? Quite honestly, it’s going to be whatever I think is fun and interesting that particular week. I do know that I will try and keep the questions light hearted and the responses blunt.

It won’t always be the same people. And it won’t always be writers from here at VT. We will try and mix it up and have an array of different people join in on the fun. And after our guests have provided their responses, I will end each question with a response of my own. There are two rules to make things more interesting:

  1. Responses must be less than 140 words. If the responder goes slightly over this boundary, they aren’t disqualified or anything. This isn’t a contest. Really, the restriction is to simplify things a little big and get a straight-forward answer.
  2. There are “Unacceptable Answers.” I will decide what these are on a case-by-case basis. Typically, I will try and think of answers that I deem unworthy. (Primarily because they don’t really answer the question.)

With that being said, let’s get to it. As it is the first installment of this post, I wanted to keep things in house. This week our guests are everyone’s favorite Vikings blogger Adam Warwas and our beloved Vikings super brain, Arif Hasan.

The name Jasper Brinkley causes some Vikings fans to shudder as they recall his final season with the Vikings two years ago.  He started 15 games that season, after missing a season to injury, and the results were not overly inspiring.  After his four years with the Vikings, Brinkley signed as a free agent with Arizona last offseason.

Arizona then drafted rookie linebacker Kevin Minter.  Brinkley started three games before the rookie took over and Brinkley was released in February.

At 28 years old, Brinkley doesn’t seem like the type of guy that is suddenly going to get any faster or develop impressive coverage skills (both weaknesses of his), but I will admit that I have never been as down on his performances as many fans and analysts have been.  He is a downhill player that can deliver the big hit, but it is mistake to think he can cover a tight end like Vernon Davis on a deep seam route.  He has his limitations, but he also has his value.

In landing back in Minnesota, Brinkley has land in perhaps the best possible position available to him in the NFL, as the Vikings currently have a wide open vacancy at middle linebacker.  Audie Cole and Michael Mauti are expected to compete with Brinkley in training camp for the starting honors, but another free agent signing or significant draft selection could certainly see them all fighting to remain employed as backups.

Brinkley should be entering the 2014 season fully healthy (I don’t believe he was in 2012), seems to be liked well enough by his former teammates, and he’s already back to his ways of making headlines for all the right reasons off the field.  Even newly signed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said the presence of Brinkley during his visit to Minnesota helped recruit him to join the Vikings, as they were roommates in college.

His contract is very low risk and, since he was released by Arizona, will not count against the Vikings in the compensatory pick formula.  Brinkley’s contract included only $25,000 in guarantees, according to Spotrac, and carries a total cap hit of only $830,000.

In the end Brinkley’s return is a low-risk and probably low-reward one for Rick Spielman.  He is never going to become a consistent game-changer and dominant force, but I do believe he can help a run defense that struggled greatly in 2013, if he is called up to do so.  If he doesn’t have a future with Mike Zimmer and the Vikings, however, they can simply part ways with him and move on… again.

Adam’s Grade:  B

 

 

If Leslie Frazier’s current record wasn’t enough to convince you that he is coaching his last games in Minnesota, then today’s report that the Vikings are already putting out feelers ought to do the trick.

According to Pro Football Talk, the Vikings have reached out to Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien, who served as an assistant with the Patriots from 2007 to 2011.  He not only has some familiarity with Vikings rookie linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, but boasts a successful pedigree of two tight end sets and offensive innovation.

O’Brien seems like a logical candidate for the Vikings to check out, but the odds are long that he is the next head coach of the team.  His Penn State contract reportedly requires an NFL team to buy him out to the tune of $7.73 million.  There are also some unsubstantiated rumors floating around that O’Brien actually has no intent to once again join the NFL coaching ranks and wants to stay put.

The Vikings aren’t the only team to contact O’Brien.  The Houston Texans, who currently have a head coaching vacancy, have also reached out to the college coach.

If things get more serious regarding O’Brien we will more extensively explore who he is as a coach and a man.  In the meantime, this story is more about confirming that the Vikings appear poised to usher in a new era of Minnesota football by doing away with their current staff.

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