EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The way Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier talked about the team's plans at middle linebacker last week, it seemed like Audie Cole might have been third on the team's depth chart after the Vikings' loss to Seattle. Rookie Michael Mauti, not Cole, was getting some work on defense against the Seahawks, and Cole had been released by the Vikings on Nov. 7 as they made room for an extra tackle before their game against the Washington Redskins.
If Mauti hadn't slammed his left knee -- which had twice been surgically repaired -- on the turf in Seattle, he might have started at middle linebacker on Sunday in Green Bay, and Cole might not have gotten his opportunity to play well enough that Frazier admitted he's thinking about whether the second-year linebacker needs to see more time there.
Cole was on the field for all 94 snaps on Sunday against the Packers, leading the Vikings with 13 combined tackles and sacking quarterback Scott Tolzien on a blitz on the first play of the game. Cole registered three other quarterback hits, had two tackles for loss and while he missed several tackles, the former seventh-round pick might have changed the Vikings' thinking about what he can be.
They'll likely get middle linebacker Erin Henderson back this week; Henderson has been away from the team dealing with a personal matter, and while Frazier would not elaborate on what that is, he said Henderson was at the team facility on Monday. It would seem unlikely they'd take Henderson out of the middle after seeing Cole for just one game, and Henderson -- who seemed irked this summer each time he was asked about the idea of the Vikings bringing in additional competition at the position -- has done a solid job at the position. The Vikings installed Henderson as their No. 1 middle linebacker over the summer, effectively saying Cole or Mauti would have to do enough to take the job away from him. They didn't do it then, and one game might not be enough for Cole to do it now.
But the Vikings also don't have much settled at Henderson's old weak-side linebacker spot, where Desmond Bishop is out for the year because of a torn ACL, Marvin Mitchell has been nondescript and rookie Gerald Hodges hasn't shown enough to get on the field. Could they think about moving Henderson back outside -- at least on first and second down -- and give Cole a more extended look?
"He hasn’t had any true game experience other than the preseason at that position, so it was encouraging to watch the way he moved around and some of the plays he made," Frazier said. "So we’re going to talk about it this afternoon as a staff and just see what’s best. But he did some things to make you take a hard look at where we are.”
Cole has also practiced at outside linebacker and played there in the preseason, so that could be another spot for him. It's also possible that his big game on Sunday will turn out to be an isolated incident. For now, at least, he's got the Vikings wondering about whether he can do more.