EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- After Audie Cole's performance in the Minnesota Vikings' tie with the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 24, coach Leslie Frazier was reluctant to consider the possibility of Cole taking over the middle linebacker job from Erin Henderson. But now that Cole followed it up with another solid game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Frazier appears to be at least open to the idea.
He said the possibility of Cole playing middle linebacker and Henderson returning to his old weakside linebacker position is "something to definitely consider going forward" after Cole made nine combined tackles and broke up a pass in the Vikings' 23-20 win over the Bears. Cole held up well in pass coverage, made several key tackles and played all 66 defensive snaps as Henderson -- who was arrested on Nov. 19 and missed the Packers game for what Frazier called personal reasons -- stayed on the sideline.
Frazier would not say Monday whether Cole will start at middle linebacker this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, or whether Henderson will get back on the field. But the possibility of moving Henderson back to outside linebacker might be too tantalizing for the Vikings to pass up.
They've struggled to find a solution at Henderson's old spot since moving him to the middle before the season; Marvin Mitchell started there, but Desmond Bishop had unseated him for the starting spot before tearing his ACL, and rookie Gerald Hodges hasn't been a factor. If the Vikings felt Cole could be their middle linebacker, putting Henderson back outside might solve the problem.
The test for Cole in the long run will be how he fares in pass coverage; he's done well there so far, but he's also faced two teams that target their receivers much more than their tight ends. A larger sample size could answer that question, and it's possible the Vikings will keep evaluating Cole in the middle while determining the next steps for Henderson.
"I liked the way Audie was playing and the way our defense as a whole was playing," Frazier said. "Even though we gave up some yards, [we] did a great job of keeping the points down, great job on third down. Just liked the way he was leading out there. Erin was ready to go, but [we] liked the way that Audie was playing."