Preseason vs. Buffalo? Yeah, Cole remembers

Linebacker Audie Cole had the game of his life last year when the Vikings played the Buffalo Bills in the preseason and it may have saved his NFL career. He talked about that, the advantages and disadvantages of his height, and where he has improved.

A preseason game in Buffalo may not be the ideal way to spend a Firday night in August, but for one Vikings player last year's preseason game against the Buffalo Bills could have been a career-saver.

Friday, Aug. 17, 2012 stands out favorably for then-rookie linebacker Audie Cole.

"For all I know, that could have been everything for me. I don't know how everything was standing other than that, but it definitely helped me," Cole said at this year's training camp. "If it weren't for that game, I don't know what would have happened. I just don't know."

It was the Vikings' second game of the preseason and the seventh-round draft choice was far from a starter. But by the time the fourth quarter rolled around and the second- and third-string players got their opportunity, Cole made the most of it.

In the span of 13 seconds in that fourth quarter, Cole – a middle linebacker – scored two touchdowns off interceptions. One went for 20 yards. The second went for 30 yards. And Cole did it all against two different Bills quarterbacks, including former Viking Tyler Thigpen, while playing only 11 snaps in that game.

As the Vikings head into their second preseason game of 2013, this one also against the Buffalo Bills, Cole could look back fondly, but he also knows how out of place he felt at that point in his rookie season. He said he didn't really feel comfortable in Minnesota until the latter stages of the 2012 season.

"As the season went on, it got better. But you're still a rookie, you're still the youngest, you're still making friends with people," Cole said. "It's different coming out of college, where you're the oldest people and then you come here and you're just nobody. You've just got to rebuild your way up. It's nice having a group under you again. Things right now, I'm feeling good and it's looking good."

Cole has moved on from being the lowest drafted rookie (210th overall) to make the Vikings roster last year to being second on the depth chart at middle linebacker this year, right behind Erin Henderson, who is in his first season learning the position in the base defense.

For the first few days of full pads in camp, Cole was getting his teammates excited when his big hits were reverberating.

"I got some people real good (early), and (later) some people got the best of me. It goes both ways," he said. "They're here for a reason, too, so you've just got to try and get better and keep working."

"… There's a lot of things pertaining to our defense and the way we run things that I needed to work on. Because I'm a tall guy, one thing I needed to do was just stay low when I'm filling holes and stuff. If anything there is I have to work on, that's it. There's probably not a fullback in the league over 5-11. I have no idea, (maybe) six foot. They're all big, thick guys and you've just got be able to get under them and get them out of the hole."

Cole's 6-foot-5, 239-pound frame can be a hindrance when it comes to shedding blocks, but it also was part of the reason he was able to come down with two interceptions in one preseason game last year. It makes it more difficult for quarterbacks to find a throwing window between the linebacker and safety.

"There are advantages, disadvantages. You get out here and you're coming up against shorter fullbacks and it's tough to get under them. They can get under you and beat you," he said. "You've got be able to get low and drive them out of the hole and stuff like that. It's tough. You get beat up here and there, but you can dish out some too."

Experience is the key for Cole. Although he got some valuable experience in the preseason of his rookie year, he played only one defensive snap the entire regular season.

"We would have to get those guys some experience that are backing Erin up right now and do whatever we would have to do if something were to happen with Erin," head coach Leslie Frazier said before the Vikings' first preseason game this year. "To say that we would be pretty complete and satisfied where we are depth wise at the middle linebacker position, I couldn't say that today. We need to see those guys work. This is Erin's first year as a full-time middle linebacker, Audie has never really played in games other than the preseason, but our depth overall, I think, is pretty good. I think we have more quality and better quality than we have had in a while."

Cole got his chance last Friday against the Houston Texans. He and Larry Dean led the linebackers with 35 snaps played. Cole produced four tackles, tied for third on the team.

"It's just knowing the plays, knowing what the coaches want, knowing what I'm doing so when I'm doing it I just do it now instead of last year when I had to think about everything and trying to figure it out and ask Dean questions next to me all the time," Cole said of the maturation process at linebacker. "Just having a year under you and doing it for a year, it just makes it so much easier."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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