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.
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.