Cole earns second start, reflects on first

Audie Cole felt prepared for his start last week and performed well, according to the praise he has received this week. His performance earned him another opportunity this week. He talked about the whirlwind of the last week and reflected on the good and the bad of his play.

Audie Cole got on the radar of Vikings fans last year as a rookie when he returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a preseason game and put his stamp on making the final 53-man roster. Since then, however, the only time, for the most part, Vikings fans have seen Cole was on special teams.

All that changed last Sunday. With Erin Henderson sidelined with personal issues, Cole stepped in and delivered – leading all players with 13 tackles. For a player who had never started a professional game, to get that first start at legendary Lambeau Field and to perform at a high level, Cole was breaking new ground as a pro and was focused on trying to make sure that his first start wouldn't be his last.

"It was exciting, but I knew it wouldn't matter if I didn't do what I had to do," Cole said. "I just had to get into the game plan. I had to know what I was doing and control the defense and make good things happen."

As it turns out, it won't be Cole's last start. Head coach Leslie Frazier explained that Cole will earn his second career start Sunday against the Bears and will have another opportunity to make the most of his chance.

"Audie earned, from my perspective along with our coaches, the right to start this ballgame. Based on his performance on Sunday, he did a very very good job, had an excellent week of practice as well," Frazier said. "As the week went on, I was saying to the coaches, ‘The way he practiced, I'm really curious to see how he plays.' And then he went out and he performed very, very well. And we came back on Monday, looked at the tape and verified some of the things that we saw in the game. And you say, ‘How do you just sit this guy down and not give him a chance to show if he can continue this?' So we made the decision based on the way he performed, and we'll get a chance to see him play this Sunday and see how he does."

While Cole graded out well, he was his own harshest critic. He didn't bring up the big hits he laid on Scott Tolzien or Matt Flynn. He didn't mention tracking down Eddie Lacy or filling interior run lanes. His memory of the game, as it often is with competitive types, was focused on the plays he didn't make.

"I missed a few tackles, I made a few mistakes, gave up a third down on me, so there are a lot of things I could have done better," Cole said. "Obviously, everything was a little bit faster. I haven't been playing much defense for a while now. Everything was faster, guys are stronger. It was different."

The timing of the Henderson absence was critical for Cole's preparation for last Sunday's game. He was informed on Wednesday that he was going to be taking the first-team reps and, as the week progressed, it quickly became apparent he was going to be the starter. While Cole lived up to his end of the bargain, he gave a lot of credit to the coaches behind the scenes that got him ready for the daunting challenge.

"The coaches did a really good job all week last week getting me into the game plan," Cole said. "When I got out there, I knew what I was doing and didn't have to second-guess myself."

Cole made all of the defensive calls, which is typically the job of a middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense – even one who hasn't played a meaningful regular-season series in his career. While it might have appeared to be a little overwhelming, Cole felt it was a positive for him because he was able to know at the snap what the rest of the defense was going to do on a given play and he was able to call out his own responsibility so there wouldn't be any confusion on his part.

"I think it actually helped me," Cole said. "It's one thing if someone else is telling you something to do. I like being able to say what the calls are going to be and tell them the calls because then I know what's going on and I know what the (entire) defense is going to do. I think it helps me personally."

Cole was able to make plays in the middle, outside the hash marks and in the Green Bay backfield Sunday. Asked which he prefers – pounding up the middle and filling running lanes or chasing ball carriers to the perimeter, he said he prefers being in chase and stalk mode because it's easier on his body than crashing with the big boys up the gut.

"I like being able to chase people down," Cole said. "I like playing the middle too, but the only thing in the middle is that you've got big offensive linemen to deal with. You've got to get those guys off of you in order to make a play. That's a little tougher."

A lot of players would have some butterflies heading into their first career start. Sometimes it can be difficult to fall asleep because, for a full-grown man, it can be the equivalent of a kid trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. But Cole said the week of preparation had him ready to go and he slept like a baby Saturday night before his coming-out party Sunday.

"Personally, when I get nervous about playing football is when I'm not prepared and not sure what I'm going to do," Cole said. "Because I felt I prepared well and the coaches prepared us well, I felt confidence in what I had to do running the defense and doing my job."

He came away from his first start with a badge of honor – a gash on his forehead that took six stitches to close. Cole said it was a simple matter of timing – hitting the wrong spot at the wrong time. It was a gusher, but Cole said it wasn't a matter of a violent collision, just bad timing.

"I hit one of their offensive linemen and it just kind of happened," Cole said. "There wasn't much too it. It just busted up in the wrong spot when we hit helmets."

While Frazier said Cole will start, there are no guarantees as to how much or how long Cole will play Sunday against the Bears. During his interview with the media, Erin Henderson said he will be ready to go and will prepare this week as if he will be starting … or at least ready to play. Cole is doing the same, but, like Henderson, he will have to wait until Sunday to find out how long he will be calling the defense.

"I'm not really sure right now," Cole said. "I'm just going to stay into it and whatever happens will happen. I'm not really sure what's going to happen."

One thing that is certain is that the Vikings coaching staff has a lot more faith in Cole heading into this Sunday's game than they did when there were plenty of unknowns swirling last week. Cole has earned a second start and what he does with that could have a significant impact – both Sunday and into the future.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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