Leslie Frazier: Audie Cole ‘did a really good job’ in first start

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — On the first play from scrimmage in

his first NFL start on Sunday, Minnesota Vikings second-year linebacker Audie

Cole tried to fill the hole to stop Green Bay’s rookie running back Eddie Lacy.

Once Cole got through the offensive line almost untouched,

he noticed Lacy didn’t have the ball. Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien had

gone play-action and stepped back to look for receivers down field. Cole

quickly diagnosed the play and went after Tolzien, who ducked to try and avoid

Cole but was the victim of Cole’s first NFL sack.

Cole had been waiting for his chance to get on the field for

Minnesota in defensive situations. He never left the field Sunday after his big

play to start the game.

Making his debut in place of Erin Henderson, who was out

while attending to a personal matter, Cole played every defensive snap in

Sunday’s 26-26 tie against Green Bay. Now he could be looking at more playing

time going forward after leading the Vikings with 13 tackles. Cole added two

tackles for loss and three quarterback hits.

“I tell you, he did a really good job yesterday for us,”

coach Leslie Frazier said Monday. “To step in, he hasn’t had any true game

experience other than the preseason at that position, so it was encouraging to

watch the way he moved around and some of the plays he made.”

Henderson was back at the team facilities on Monday and is

expected to return to practice this week. Cole did enough Sunday for coaches to

talk about an increased role going forward.

“We’re going to talk about it this afternoon as a staff and

just see what’s best,” Frazier said. “But he did some things to make you take a

hard look at where we are.”

Cole, a 2012 seventh-round draft pick out of North Carolina

State, had been limited mostly to special times in his two years with the

Vikings. He splashed in the preseason in 2012 when he returned two

interceptions for touchdowns in one game against Buffalo.

Yet, he was behind Jasper Brinkley at middle linebacker and

played in five games his rookie season. Once Brinkley signed with the Arizona

Cardinals in the offseason, the Vikings moved Henderson to the middle from the

weakside where he had started the previous two seasons.

Frazier didn’t completely rule out moving Henderson back to

weakside and having Cole start in the middle. Minnesota has been searching for

a standout weakside linebacker since moving Henderson. The Vikings drafted

Gerald Hodges in the fourth round this year. Desmond Bishop appeared to be

earning more chances before a season-ending injury. Marvin Mitchell has started

the most games for Minnesota at the position.

Frazier said Cole could also be a possibility on the outside

and has some experience practicing there.

“When we sit down this afternoon and just talk about what

we’re going to do for this opponent, we’ll probably talk about what’s the best

scenario to get the best 11 on the field,” Frazier said. “We’ll have to

determine if Audie will be one of those 11 or how we’ll do it. It’s hard for me

to answer that right now.”

Henderson leads the Vikings in tackles and tackles for loss

and is tied for the team high with two interceptions this season. Frazier was

hesitant to compare Henderson’s play with Cole’s performance on Sunday.

“Erin has done a good job for us throughout the year at the

middle linebacker position,” Frazier said. “It’s a new position for him. He’s

always been an outside ‘backer for us, and as the season has gone on, he’s

gotten better at that position. In comparison, it’s hard to compare one game versus

in Erin’s case, 10 games at the position. But Audie did a good job for the one

game that he was lined up at the ‘Mike’ linebacker.”

Cole getting a start would have been highly unexpected a few

weeks ago. Left shorthanded because of injuries and needing a backup offensive

tackle for the Thursday night game against Washington, Minnesota waived Cole to

make room for tackle Kevin Murphy on the active roster.

Cole cleared waivers and was re-signed two days after the

game, with Murphy headed back to the practice squad. Cole said the team told

him they wanted to bring him back, but it didn’t make being released any

easier.

“Obviously it’s still not cool, it’s not what you want to

happen,” Cole said last week. “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. It sucked, I came

back and things have been going good for me lately.”

Cole said he felt prepared for Sunday’s start and didn’t

feel the pressure of making his first NFL start. Cole was also responsible for

making the defensive play calls and helping the defense get set up in the right

spots. He filled Henderson’s role in the nickel defense and played all 94

defensive snaps as well as 12 special teams plays.

“Probably mentally,” Cole said of where he’s improved the

most since being drafted in the seventh round. “I understand what they want out

of me and want they want out of the defense. When I first got here, I didn’t

really know what was going on. I thought I did but I didn’t. And it’s not like

it just happened one day, just kind of over time looking back now, it’s a big

difference but I never realized the difference while it was happening.”

Frazier didn’t plan to play Cole every snap on Sunday.

Rookie Michael Mauti had pulled ahead of Cole on the depth chart when he was

released, but some tenderness in Mauti’s surgically-repaired knee gave Cole

another opening.

“We talked about it during the week, knowing what Michael

Mauti’s situation was coming off an injury, that if Audie played well early, we

stayed with him, see how he’s doing,” Frazier said. “It seemed the more he

played, the more plays he made so there was no reason to sub him. He did a good

job.”

Practice squad change: Minnesota announced on Tuesday it

released offensive lineman Jamaal Johnson-Webb from the practice squad to make

room for defensive back Kip Edwards.

Edwards, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound cornerback, was signed by the

Buffalo Bills in April as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri. He spent

time this season on the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad.

The Vikings had signed offensive lineman Mike Remmers to the

active roster on Monday, replacing the open spot created by releasing

cornerback A.J. Jefferson following a Monday arrest. With Jefferson’s release,

Josh Robinson’s fractured sternum and Xavier Rhodes’ concussion, Minnesota was

short at cornerback.

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