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Article: Down To The Wire: The Battle At Middle Linebacker

audie cole jasper brinkley
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#1 Aj Mansour

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 05:27 AM

It began as a race between four players. When Training Camp opened up for the Vikings in late July, the race for starting middle linebacker was up in the air between Jasper Brinkley, Audie Cole, Mike Mauti and veteran weak side backer Chad Greenway. As camp sorted itself out, the pack dwindled and heading into the final preseason game against the Tennessee Titans this Thursday night, only two remain.“I have a pretty good idea [who will start] right now,” head coach Mike Zimmer said this week. “I’m going to just wait until after this week and see though. But I have a good idea on it."

With Greenway settling back in on the weak side and Mike Mauti falling off the deep end of the depth chart (currently third in line on the weak side behind Greenway and Watts), it’s a battle between veterans Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole for the starting mike linebacker.

Through the first three preseason games, Brinkley has served as the team’s starting middle linebacker, but a late push from Audie Cole has the coaches holding their decision as a secret until the last possible minute.

“Jasper and Audie are both good players, both very solid at what they do,” Zimmer continued. “I think their styles are a little different, but they’re both very smart guys, pretty versatile and both have played very well in the preseason.

In the stats book, it’s been Audie Cole turning heads with 12 solo tackles in three preseason games while Brinkley is not far behind with 7 tackles and a half sack so far. To see the differences between the two you need to look further into their styles of play and it’s up to the coaching staff to determine whether or not they fit better into the scheme that the Vikings are attempting to employ.

“Jasper seems to be a little bit more communicative,” Zimmer explained this week. “Audie seems to have a little more range. As far as the running game, they are very close and in the passing game they are similar. You have to look at a lot of 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.”

As coach mentioned, Jasper has the edge with more experience. Brinkley started 15 games in the middle for the Minnesota Vikings in 2012. It was a solid season but was obviously not enough to keep him with the Vikings and he spent 2013 with the Arizona Cardinals.

A seventh round pick out of North Carolina State, the deck was stacked against Audie from the very beginning. Odds are, when you think of Audie Cole your mind will go directly to the 2012 season when Cole pick-sixed back-to-back passes in a preseason game. That’s what we call “making a splash”. That was good enough to keep Cole on the team in 2012 but it was his development in 2013 that is putting him in the mix for a starting spot in 2014.

It was late in the year last season when Audie stepped into an opportunity and made the best of it. With Erin Henderson handling off the field problems and Mike Mauti sidelined with an injury, Cole was the only fresh body left to fill in at the middle against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Audie responded to the opportunity by leading the team with 11 tackles and 1 sack.

It’s rare that position battles carry over into the fourth and final preseason game but don’t be surprised if you see both Brinkley and Cole play limited snaps tonight against the Tennessee Titans as they fight this thing to the end. Observing what we have seen to date, Brinkley probably has the edge for week number one but if Audie continues to show off his range and athleticism don’t be surprised if he sees an opportunity sooner rather than later. It’s definitely trending towards that direction.

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#2 John Bonnes

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 10:02 AM

It sounds like you think Brinkley is the guy. That surprises me a little. I would think Zimmer might embrace the more athletic guy, especially after he showed some savvy development late last year. It'll be fun to watch each one and see what they do. Can we expect each one to play a quarter?


#3 Aj Mansour

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 01:49 PM

I agree with you. I think that the decision, at least to start the season, will go the way of Jasper. He's the safer pick. That said I think they will be underwhelmed through the first quarter of the season and eventually will give Audie the nod.

 

If they go Audie from the very beginning, more power to them.


#4 Seth Stohs

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Posted 28 August 2014 - 04:56 PM

AJ, you mentioned that Brinkley is more communicative... From my days of high school football, the middle linebacker was key for communication. Is that the case in this Vikings defense, or could a guy like Greenway make calls from the weak side?

 

If Brinkley is solid enough physically, maybe the communication is a key.


#5 cdryks

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Posted 29 August 2014 - 08:37 AM

Did I read somewhere that they were going to have Greenway make all of the calls on the field since Brinkley wouldn't be on the field in nickel situations?  If that's the case, his ability to communicate shouldn't be considered.  Audie Cole seems to be a playmaker, give him a look!




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