Vikings' rookie Cole ready to get greedy
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Rookie seventh-round draft picks don't usually garner national attention, even in the preseason. But likely no other seventh-rounder has ever done what Minnesota Vikings linebacker Audie Cole accomplished last Friday.
There might not have been any rookie to ever do what Cole did in Minnesota's preseason game last week against the Buffalo Bills, when Cole returned two interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive offensive snaps. The two plays earned Cole, a previously little-known, seventh-round pick from North Carolina State, instant recognition.
The plays certainly attracted attention from the Vikings' coaches. However, Cole has put last week's game behind him. He's hoping to hold his coach's attention and avoid having two preseason plays define his rookie season.
"Everyone's been excited about what happened last week and stuff, but that was six days ago and that's over," Cole said Wednesday. "It doesn't matter. That was preseason, too, so that doesn't count. Everyone's excited. I'm happy. I've just got to keep going and have two more good preseason games."
Minnesota was expected to address its linebacker depth during April's draft. But the Vikings waited before calling Cole's name with the 210th overall pick, the first of two seventh-round choices. Cole had an accomplished career at North Carolina State where he had 276 tackles and 14 sacks in his final three seasons, but was knocked heading into the draft as being too slow after running a 4.8-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. Minnesota's coaches had a good idea of what Cole could do on the field though after coaching him during the Senior Bowl.
Throughout the preseason, Cole has been working with the third-team linebackers in the Vikings' base defense. More plays like he's made in the first two preseason games and Cole might have a better shot at sticking around than some of the linebackers he's played with, and behind.
"It definitely helps when a guy makes plays in games," coach Leslie Frazier said. "You don't want to discount that. It means something whether it's the first unit or the third unit and it was good to see him step up and make some key plays when he had an opportunity to. There were other guys at times who will be in the same situations and won't make those plays, so you like it when a guy does. You take all of that into account. We got a few more weeks here in training camp. We'll look at his entire body of work as we're trying to make a decision on what's best for our team."
Cole has flashed on defense, but knows special teams will likely be best route to a roster spot as a rookie.
"Special teams is the way I've got to make it," Cole said. "That's just how I've got to do it. That's my role. Obviously I'm always going to be trying to play linebacker as well, but special teams is what I've got to do."
Cole's shown a knack for big plays, such as Friday's two-interception game. Cole, who only had one interception, in his four years at North Carolina State, also had a sack in the preseason opener. He's even used to scoring touchdowns, just not defensively. He was a quarterback in high school and didn't play much defense before going to North Carolina State, where he played inside and outside linebacker for the Wolfpack. At 6-foot-5 and 239 pounds, Cole provides a presence in the middle of the defense.
His height might have helped him on one of the two interceptions, which the quarterback tried to go over the top of Cole. The other he undercut the receiver and had a wide-open lane to the end zone.
"Audie's play was a great example of doing exactly what the linebacker coaches ask him to do, drop in coverage, see the quarterback, and break on the ball; nothing any more or any less than that," Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "Audie was a great case of doing what the coaches asked him to do and his part is, and I don't take this for granted, catching the football and scoring with it. I don't take that for granted at all because there are a lot of balls that hit the hands and are on the ground."
The plays also demonstrated how Cole can make plays, despite that previous knock on his speed.
"He's one of those guys who is so long and he's a long-strider," Frazier said. "What some people think is a lack of speed, he's really closing and moving fairly quickly and his length makes a big difference. Those quarterbacks who think they can line drive a ball in like they did the other night because of his length, all of a sudden that pass is not a completion, it could be an interception. But he has good instincts, he has good anticipation, he's a smart football player and that can offset a guy who doesn't have blazing speed."
Cole said Minnesota's defensive schemes are similar to what he played in during college. He also feels he's growing more comfortable by the day with the Vikings. He has moved on from the two interceptions, but notes its better having those on his resume than mistakes.
"I'm still not on the team," Cole said. "I'm still fighting to make the team and win a spot somewhere. That's the mentality that you've got to have."
Cole is still working toward a roster spot. The mistakes still come and he said coaches were on him Wednesday after a "big" mistake in practice. It's part of the transition for a rookie, especially a seventh-rounder.
It's just that most seventh-rounders don't have two interception returns for touchdowns in two preseason games.
"It can't hurt," Cole said. "I guess it's better than two big mess-ups. I'll take that any day."
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