Audie Cole began the 2013 NFL season as a backup linebacker on the Minnesota Vikings defense. Cole rarely received playing time until Week 12 when he replaced Erin Henderson as the Vikings’ starting middle linebacker. Entering his third season in the NFL, Cole will finally open training camp with an opportunity to become a full-time starter on the Vikings defense.
The Vikings originally drafted Cole in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Since then, Cole has started four games for the Vikings. In these four starts, Cole recorded 42 total tackles and one quarterback sack.
While Cole finished the 2013 season as the Vikings’ starting middle linebacker, he will not simply be handed the position in 2014. In fact, Cole may not end competing for the middle linebacker position, as he has mostly taken snaps at outside linebacker throughout OTAs.
Cole has been practicing with the Vikings’ first unit during OTAs. In the Vikings’ base defense, free agent acquisition Jasper Brinkley has lined up as the middle linebacker with Chad Greenway and Cole lining up on the outside. With that said, Cole may no longer be competing for the middle linebacker position but rather the outside linebacker position opposite of Greenway.
If Cole is in fact competing for an outside linebacker position, he will square off against first-round pick Anthony Barr and second-year linebacker Gerald Hodges for playing time. While Barr and Hodges are far more naturally talented than Cole, he may have an inside track on the starting position due to his experience in the NFL. Barr is a rookie with no NFL experience and Hodges rarely received playing time during his rookie year last season.
Assuming Cole can quickly learn and adapt to new head coach Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme, the WILL linebacker position will likely be his to lose. Regardless of whether he opens the season as a starter or not, chances are that Cole will slowly be forced to relinquish playing time to Barr as the 2014 season progresses.
Expect Cole to open the 2014 season as the Vikings’ starting WILL linebacker in their base defense but be replaced by Barr during pass-rushing situations.