Cole’s height an advantage in passing league

Audie Cole likely will have one last good opportunity to state his case for the starting middle linebacker job. He talked about that and his height advantage in a league increasingly slanted toward the passing game.

In a changing NFL, Audie Cole might be the right body type at the right time.

The Minnesota Vikings linebacker is embroiled in a close battle for the starting spot at middle linebacker with Jasper Brinkley. That might be decided in the third preseason game in Kansas City.

The Chiefs are known mostly for their running game, which finished 10th last year, but running back Jamaal Charles isn’t likely to play after suffering a foot injury when moving out of his training camp dorm.

A concentration on the running game might benefit Brinkley. Cole might be better in pass defense.

“Jasper seems to be a little bit more communicative and Audie seems to have a little more range,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “As far as the running game, they are very close and in the passing game they are similar. You have to look at all of the different things – how it affects the rest of the guys on the team, their blitz ability, their communication on different formations that you get. There are so many variables with that position that goes into it that you just kind of overall look at it.”

But in a league that is increasingly slanting toward the pass game, Cole might have an advantage. He is a 6-foot-5, 239 pounds with a long reach. Brinkley is 6-foot-1 and 252 pounds.

“I’d like to think it helps; I don’t know if it really does,” the even-keeled Cole said. “I like being this height, so I’d like to think it helps in my favor.”

He also believes teams are attacking defenses with more passing.

“It’s just kind of the way offenses have been attacking lately. Last year, we had two games where we might have played nickel the whole game,” Cole said. “It’s a passing league. It’s not a downhill, run-you-over league like it used to be.”

But that propensity toward the passing game will limit the snaps for the middle linebacker no matter who wins the job. When the Vikings go to five defensive backs, Chad Greenway and Anthony Barr stay on the field. The middle linebacker, whether it’s Cole or Brinkley, is replaced with a cornerback or sometimes even a safety.

Brinkley has started both preseason games, but Cole has received more time on the field overall. Brinkley has played in 34 snaps in the two games combined while Cole has gotten 52.

Against the Cardinals, Cole got 31 snaps compared to Brinkley’s 16 as the two rotated series.

“I was fine with the whole thing. I was playing special teams the whole time, too, so it wasn’t like I was taking a quarter off if they went on long drives or anything,” Cole said. “I was off two series, played two series and then off. I was into the game with special teams and all that.

“I did alright. There’s a lot of things I could have done better. I’ll never have a game where I’ll think I did great unless I score a couple touchdowns. Every game I’ve played, I’m going to think there’s things I can do to get better.”

Preseason stats can be a misleading gauge at how well someone is playing, but so far Brinkley has seven tackles and Cole six, although Cole is one of four Vikings to have a tackle-for-loss. Brinkley has one tackle on special teams; Cole has none.

For now, the most important game for Cole is against the Kansas City Chief on Saturday. It may be his best opportunity to unseat Brinkley as the projected starter. It’s one of the few remaining starting spots up for debate, along with strong safety, but Cole is wisely keeping his focus on his own play.

“I’ve got the same mindset as I did coming into camp, so it doesn’t matter what everyone else does. It only matters what I’m going to do that’s going to get me there,” he said. “As long as I keep showing up, eliminate mistakes, make my play when it’s my turn to make it, things will happen. If I am, I am. If I’m not, that’s what it is.”

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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