The Minnesota Vikings will play without middle linebacker Erin Henderson this weekend, giving Audie Cole his first career start instead.
Henderson has missed practice all week due to an unspecified personal matter, and coach Leslie Frazier on Friday ruled the team’s leading tackler out of the game at Green Bay. Cole, a seventh-round draft pick last year, was cut for a few days earlier this month in favor of depth at another position and brought back for the last game at Seattle.
So here he is, about to be in the starting lineup at Lambeau Field.
"Pumped," Cole said, adding: "I’m excited for my opportunity to get to go out and do what I’ve been waiting for, for a year and a half now."
Another starter, defensive end Brian Robison, was listed as questionable for Sunday because of a muscle spasm in his neck that prevented him from taking part in practice Friday.
With Jared Allen and Everson Griffen, the Vikings have only two other defensive ends on the active roster. Defensive tackle Letroy Guion will be back after missing the last two weeks because of a chest injury, so at least they’ll have a deeper rotation in the middle.
The Vikings had better news on the other side of the ball. Running back Adrian Peterson returned to practice on a limited basis after sitting out the last two days to rest his sore groin. He’s listed as questionable, along with wide receiver Greg Jennings (Achilles) and center John Sullivan (concussion), who also returned to practice on a limited basis. All three are expected to play. Jennings didn’t play last week at Seattle.
For Cole, patience paid off.
He was told the plan prior to being released on Nov. 7, so Kevin Murphy could be elevated from the practice squad as insurance at offensive tackle with Phil Loadholt still recovering from a concussion for the game against Washington. Sure enough, two days later, Cole was back on the active roster.
"It’s still not cool. It’s not what you want to happen," Cole said. "I understand why they did it. Someone had to go. I wish it wasn’t me, but it was. You’ve just got to take it. I came back, and things have been going good for me lately."
His backup will be rookie Michael Mauti, a fellow seventh-round pick. Mauti had some swelling in his left knee, on which he had reconstructive surgery as a senior at Penn State. His third anterior cruciate ligament injury in a five-year span caused him to slip down the draft board.
Mauti has excelled on special teams with 10 tackles, third most on the team. He shrugged off the suggestion that his recent minor injury was bad timing, given the opening created by Henderson’s absence. He said he’s sure he’ll get plenty of playing time.
"You can’t control what happens to you in a football game. I know that better than anybody," he said. "But I’m not going to be limited Sunday, so that’s really all that matters."