Vikings linebacker Audie Cole was a seventh-round pick in 2012 and jumped into the hearts of many fans during the 2012 preseason when he had back-to-back interception returns for TDs in a game against the Bills.
Since then, Cole has climbed the depth chart to the point that he started five games last season and is expected to contribute again this year under new head coach Mike Zimmer. We caught up with Cole on Thursday for a few questions:
RB: I’m excited Sunday is almost here, which I assume means you are even more excited?
AC: Yeah, I’m excited. I know we’re all pretty excited for this week to get here.
RB: Linebacker-wise, how do you feel your opportunity is right now? Does it feel wide open, that regardless of who is starting there should be a lot of opportunities out there?
AC: I don’t know about opportunities or all that, but I just do what they ask me to do. When I get my chance, I just have to make the most of it.
RB: What does that entail for you?
AC: Just make plays when you’re put in place to make them. You don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary, you just have to do what you’re supposed to do.
RB: You kind of jumped onto the scene with those preseason interceptions. It’s something to hang your hat on, but are you trying to move past being known for that?
AC: Oh yeah, I mean that was couple years ago and preseason. It didn’t even count then, and now it definitely doesn’t count because it’s a couple years old. I’m just ready to move on with this year because I think we’re going to have a good one.
RB: You kind of have classic linebacker hair. Have you always had that?
AC: (laughs) Nah, I’ve grown it out, cut it, grown it out, cut it a few times. There’s no reason for it. I just do.
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen missed practice today due to an illness, but head coach Mike Zimmer expects him to practice on Friday or at the very least be ready to start Sunday in St. Louis.
Spotted but not participating during Sunday’s practice were fullback Zach Line (ankle) and outside linebackers Michael Mauti (foot) and Brandon Watts (knee), though Zimmer just told us that Line was able to do a little bit of individual work today. We’ll see how he’s listed on the injury report.
Zimmer pretty much ruled out Mauti and Watt’s for Sunday’s game against the Rams, though they might have ended up being healthy scratches anyway with the Vikings relatively healthy right now.
In other injury news, my colleague Master Tesfatsion spoke with rookie offensive tackle Antonio Richardson, who is on injured reserve due to a knee issue. Richardson said he experienced swelling in his right knee after the preseason finale and is scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery this week.
Adrian Peterson has played a lot of football games, including 107 in his eight-year career, but he’s never been as ticked off and talkative on the field as he was on Dec. 16, 2012.
The Vikings were making their playoff push and Peterson was en route to 2,097 yards, eight shy of the NFL record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.
Wednesday, the St. Louis media asked if Peterson had watched the tape of his 212-yard performance from that day. He said he hadn’t looked at it all, and then brought up how downright angry the Rams made him early on in that game.
“What I do remember about that game is that it’s first time in eight years, I’ve ever talked off to players,” Peterson said. “Those guys had me so hot, like I haven’t ever been that mad playing football.”
Peterson lost yardage on four of his first five carries and six of his first eight. After seven carries, he had zero yards.
“They were just yapping at the mouth,” he said. “I’m talking about from the defensive front to the second level to the secondary. Those guys were just yapping.”
On his ninth carry, Peterson went a career-long 82 yards for a touchdown.
“It got a little quite then,” Peterson said.
Today – three days before the season opener at St. Louis — Peterson was asked to recall what the Rams players said that made him so mad.
“I can’t even remember, but they said enough to make me fire back,” he said. “Normally, I’m an assassin out there. I was a talking assassin that time. From the secondary on down, those guys were talking so much noise. Then we ripped a long run on them and things got quiet. Hopefully, things play out the same way.”
Peterson said he normally doesn’t hear trash talking directed at him on the field.
“Maybe because I don’t really talk trash when I’m out there,” he said. “For whatever reason, I don’t know if E.D. [Dickerson] gave them a call and was like, `Hey, you have to get in this guy’s head or something. He’s approaching my record’ or whatever. Or maybe they’re just fiery like that. I’ll be able to confirm it on Sunday.”
In last year’s season opener at Detroit, Peterson’s first carry went 78 yards for a touchdown.
“I think that Tuesday or Wednesday [before the game], me and Toby [Gerhart] and Matt Asiata was talking and I was like, `Man, I’m going to take the first carry to the house,’” Peterson said. “I never really thought about it. I meant it when I said it. And then when it happened and I came to the sideline and they reminded me that I had said that. Hopefully, it will work out the same way.”
Asked if he was calling his shot three days before the opener, Peterson thought about it for a second. Then he took the bait.
“Yeah, I might as well speak it,” he said. “Yeah, touchdown. First run.”
Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said he’s constantly thinking about his first kickoff return opportunity in the season opener against the Rams on Sunday. He even pleaded to Rams head coach Jeff Fisher in the offseason when the two bumped into each other at the ESPYs in June.
“I told him, ‘Just make sure he kicks me the ball,’” Patterson said. “He told me, ‘Be ready.’ So I’m ready for that.”
Fisher didn’t sound like he was leaning that way during Wednesday’s conference call. The league quickly found out about Patterson’s ability last year when the rookie led the NFL, and set a franchise record, averaging 32.4 kickoff yards per return. He scored two touchdowns returning kicks, with one tying the longest play in NFL history on a 109-yard return against the Packers.
“If you want to create problems for yourself, give him a returnable ball,” Fisher said. “The more balls you can kick out of the end zone, the better you are.”
When told Fisher sounded like someone that didn’t want to kick to the Vikings return man, Patterson wasn’t buying it.
“Coaches tell you two different things,” Patterson said. “I feel like they’re going to try and kick it to me. Their kicker, he’s got a big leg so I feel like he’s going to try and kick it out the end zone. If he don’t, I’m going to bring it out.”
There will likely be times when Patterson won’t be lined up to field returns based on in-game situations, but otherwise, Patterson enjoys making an impact on special teams.
“Last year, that’s where I made my money at on kickoff returns,” Patterson said. “Ain’t no need for me to even be lobbying off of that. That’s my job. I don’t feel I need to get off that unless coach [Mike Zimmer] tells me to.”
Teddy Bridgewater, the quarterback of the future, is getting used to being the backup of the present.
While Matt Cassel is getting comfortable as the starter, taking the vast majority of the first-team reps in practice, the 32nd overall pick in May’s NFL draft is forced to take reps of the mental variety. Bridgewater estimated that he is getting about two percent of the first-team reps in practice, so he has to make the most of the ones he gets in individual drills and when running the scout team.
After Wednesday’s practice, Bridgewater was the last Vikings player of the field, and sweat was still running down his face and he was still catching his breath as he started answering questions.
“The preparation, it changes as far as practice because we have to get Matt ready for this upcoming game,” Bridgewater said. “We have to get Matt ready to play. So for me, I won’t be getting as many reps as I received in the preseason. But for me, it’s just taking advantage of those reps that I do get and also giving the defense a good look. I’m out there with the scout team.”
Running the scout team isn’t ideal, because he is running plays from the opponent’s playbook and not coordinator Norv Turner’s. But he said it is helpful in that it allows him to work on fundamentals while going up against the first-team D. He is still tweaking his mechanics, specifically his footwork, so he can play faster, throw on time and get the ball to his receivers before the get out of breaks.
While the competition with Cassel got away from him midway through August, when he struggled during the preseason opener and then threw a few interceptions in the following week of practice, Bridgewater said he learned an important lesson from head coach Mike Zimmer and Turner.
“The biggest thing was that Coach Zimmer and Coach Turner, they were just telling me, ‘Go play football and stop thinking so much and stop overthinking things. Just go out there and use your God-given talent,’” Bridgewater said. “Hearing those words just took a load of my shoulders because as a young guy you think that you have to do everything right. But it reminded me that I’m going to make some mistakes. I’m a rookie. Go out there and play relentlessly and just try to have fun.”
Bridgewater led a game-winning drive in the Vikings’ second preseason game and finished the preseason with an impressive 111.2 passer rating. He threw five touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I felt pretty good. I felt good because I made progress,” Bridgewater said of play in the preseason. “But I still have a lot to work on. My work is never done and I’m never satisfied. So I was pretty happy with my performance throughout the preseason, but I know that I still have a lot to learn.”