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Audie Cole Gives Us All Something To Consider

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.

Right out of the gate, Cole appeared to have a hot hand, as he had four tackles (one for a loss) on the first drive of the game.  He finished with 14 tackles, 11 solo, one for a loss, a beautiful pass deflection, and an interception that was called back due to an offsides penalty.

What’s more, as part of taking over for Greenway, it was Cole that wore the defensive green dot communicator and relayed the defensive calls to his teammates.  He was quite literally the leader of a defense that gave up zero touchdowns for the first time since the season opener against St. Louis.

Cole will win VT‘s final “Player of the Game” award as voted on by our readers, but one can’t help but wonder if he didn’t win himself something far more important… a real crack at the starting lineup in 2015.  This performance, coupled with previously impressive starts as outlined here by Carl Knowles, have to leave Mike Zimmer at least considering Cole and his production for 2015.

If that happens, then our guest poster Brent Butler from back in July can send us all a big huge “I Told Ya So” card.  I’m cool with that, without a doubt.  I’d frame it.

“Audie played in there in all of the sub groups, nickel packages, the whole bit today,” Zimmer said following the win. “He made all the calls and checks. The more you can do, the longer you get to stay.”

“He wasn’t mistake-free,” Zimmer, a vocal critic of Pro Football Focus, continued, “but his heart was big.”

That heart, with mistakes and all, might have been just big enough for me to reconsider my list of offseason needs very, very soon.

 

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Adam Warwas

Adam Warwas (Founder) has been writing about the Vikings for a total of eight years. Five of those years have been here at Vikings Territory where he continues to surround himself with enough talented individuals that people keep coming back. As proud as he is of what Vikings Territory has become, his real treasures are in his home... a beautiful wife and three amazing children (and a dog named Percy).

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12 Comments

  1. Audie played great,and got my vote for Player of The Week.He has surely put himself in the frame for next year.
    However I would love for us to add Brandon Spikes to this group,he could really be the experienced leader that can make this LB group gel next year.With Spikes/Barr/Hodges/Cole, I think we would really have something.

    1. Do you think spikes will be worth the money? Let’s face it, nobody really wants to come to Minnesota so we generally have to overpay free agents compared to nice weather (Miami, San Diego) or powerhouse (greenbay or new England). I think we’d be better off rolling with Cole, Mauti and maybe a mid round draft pick.

      1. Yes I do think Spikes would be worth the money.He plays in Buffalo which isn’t exactly the warmest place,and I really think that coming to play for Coach Zimmer is a selling point that we can use.We need to do a much better job stopping the run,and that’s what Spikes can do.

  2. I’m a fan of Audie’s but the Bears gameplan fed his statistics this week. They forced the ball to Forte so that he could get his record, so everything was in front of Audie. Obviously he still needed to make the tackles but that’s just what an NFL linebacker should be doing.
    As Vikings fans I think we have become so used to below par linebacker play that a solid game makes us praise too highly. Zimmer’s comments seem to back that up.
    Of course I would love for Audie to become the guy next to Barr for years to come, but I feel like if a stud linebacker is available at #11 it would take the defence to the next level.

  3. This comment was on DN about Cole……….
    He made a lot of plays
    in the run game, and on the short passes. However, the kid looked completely lost in coverage on several occasions. He’s great at playing what’s in front of him, but man, he makes Greenway look like Revis in coverage.

    We have seen this before with Cole. One great game then he disappears. He gets your hopes up, then nothing.

    1. There’s also a lot of comments over on DN about how we should not just draft a LB at 11, but also trade back into the first round to take a 2nd LB in the late first which would give us a grand total of 3 first round LB’s…which would be great when we’re in our base defense, but not too helpful when we are forced to pull backers for corners 70% of the defensive snaps. Audie played a great game WTF, he’s probably not a superstar, but you don’t need 3 superstar LB’s in a 4-3 defense to be successful. Far more important to have pass rushers that can deplete the amount of time those LB’s and corners are forced to cover receivers. I expect one new-to-the-team starter next year in this group, likely at Mike, with Audie and Hodges battling it out for what I expect to be Greenway’s vacated spot on the outside. This just isn’t a position that you can throw a ton of resources at when all an opponent needs to do to mess things up is line up another WR. Ideally you have two stars like Chicago did with Briggs/Urlacher and a 3rd guy who knows his role and does it well enough that he isn’t viewed as a weak link.

  4. Audie is a very good player and IMO could be great given the opportunity.Remember ,he has only played a few snaps in each game at lb.If he played and practiced(with 1st team) full time he could be great.Even if he doesn’t get better, he was still the best defensive player on the field!What else do you want out of this guy anyway!There isn’t a player in the league that makes every play every time.I i think the Vikings should take Shaq Thompson at no.11.He would be a great starting lb and back up or rotational safety and rb.

    1. I don’t really get why Shaq Thompson is being viewed as a sure fire top 20 pick in so many mocks. Great athelete, but the guy never hit 80 total tackles in his three years playing defense and had 4 or 5 sacks in his entire career. Your looking at a tweener LB/Safety who is a solid 2nd Rd pick. He’ll end up being a great WLB in a 4-3 and maybe he’ll even get some snaps on offense, but his size and production are going to knock him down the draft boards. You’ll likely see that catch on in the coming months and see him drop from the opening frame in mocks. The wild card would be him showing so well in coverage drills that a team is convinced he can play and excel at safety. Still probably a late 1st/early 2nd. If he had the size to be a real pass rushing threat that would be different, but he’s more in the Arthur Brown/Lavonte David mold and they both dropped out of the first round. We’ll have to see how much he bulks up for the combine. If he shows up there at 240 and still runs a 4.4 than I’ll be singing a different tune, but the production on defense is going to concern teams once they get over the splash plays he made.

      1. A solid LB to look at in the draft is Paul Dawson from TCU. He is 6′ 2″ and weighs 230 pounds. Not sure of his 40 yard dash time, but he looks “game fast” against ‘Ole Miss today. He has over 100 tackles, five sacks, and four interceptions in 2014 (not counting today’s stats). Might need to bulk up a tad to play at the next level, but should be a solid day 2 pick for someone. Skol!

  5. The promising thing to consider…..is that Zimmer has shown the ability this year, and his years in Cincy, to build ok players into great ones, not just rely on bringing in stars.

  6. Great article Adam!
    Brinkley, Hodges and Cole collectively can get the job done in the middle. Drafting a 4-3 middle linebacker in the top half of the first round doesn’t happen very often. Traditional 4-3 MLBs seem to fall back in the draft.

    I like Shaq Thompson’s big play ablity. 5 ints, a terror rushing the QB off the edge, 4 defensive TDs, a 7.5 yard rushing average as RB with 2 more TDs on that side of the ball.

    Dan T, I agree Shaq may drop in the draft because of his lack of size (tweener label) , but in today’s pass happy, nickel heavy NFL, Shaq should still be in high demand.

    If Shaq wows at the combine, I think he will stay in the mid first round area. If he has a poor NFL combine performance… that is when his stock could fall.

    If he can convince scouts that he has the speed and coverage ability of a safety, with the strength and power of a linebacker, the Viking might take a long look at him with the 11th pick.

    However, I like the idea of reuniting Teddy Bridgewater with Louisville WR Devante Parker with the first pick, but drafting Shaq in the first or second round would be ok by me.

    A standout CB like Michigan State’s Trae Wayne’s or Florida State’s P.J. Williams is also on my draft watch list.

  7. Cole has not only performed every time he steps on the field he has also has making all the calls and making sure the defense was lined up right ~

    I have no clue how Zimmer could start Jasper Brinkley ~ JMHO the light come on for Cole once he steps on the field ~ He may be one of those players would look much different throughout the week leading to the game ((( lack of fire ))) and then lights it up once the ball is touched ~

    Just some thoughts ~ Also Cole only played Mike his senior season ~ He played Sam the other two years at NC State ~ I got to see him a lot living here in NC ~ He was super productive no matter where the Wolf Pack as him to play ~

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