Rookie linebacker Audie Cole (57) had the game of his life. (Getty Images)
Everyone always knew that Audie Cole was a great athlete -- it just took him a while to find the right position on the football field. With the standard "it's just the preseason" disclaimer in full effect, it seems that Cole may have found his true niche. Selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft by the Minnesota Vikings, the former baseball player, basketball player, and boxer was a standout for North Carolina State at strongside and middle linebacker. Though he received invitations to the 2012 scouting combine and led his team in tackles each season from 2009 through 2011, Cole was very much under the radar as the draft approached.
Cole's in the spotlight now, because of what he accomplished in Minnesota's 36-14 Friday night victory of the Buffalo Bills/ On consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, Cole picked off passes from two different Bills quarterbacks and ran them both in for touchdowns. The first pick came with 3:28 left in the game, as backup Tyler Thigpen threw from his own 11-yard line. Cole grabbed the ball at the Bills' 20-yard line, and ran in for six. The Vikings kicked off, the Bills started from their own 22 this time, new backup Brad Smith came in, and Smith repeated Thigpen's mistake -- he hit Cole at the 30, and that was all she wrote.
"To see Audie do what he did, that's a big deal," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said after the game. "He seems like one of those guys who maybe is someone who has a knack for the big play."
For Cole, the only issue was his form on the first runback. "Everybody said I should have just run it straight in," Cole said. "I don't know. I don't touch the ball usually, so I tried to make some moves out there."
Second-year Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder remembered playing against Cole when Ponder was Florida State's quarterback -- fortunately, Cole never made Ponder look quite this foolish.
"Fortunately, I never threw a pick against him," Ponder told TwinCities.com. "I remember him sticking out as a great player on defense. I've never seen back-to-back interceptions like that on defense before. Obviously, he made an impression tonight. He's had a good camp. Good for him. I'm happy for him."
Of course, this is preseason, and though Cole impressed greatly in this game, his roster position is as tenuous as that of any seventh-rounder. He won't have much time to celebrate before he gets back to work.
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"I have to pick it up on special teams and keep going," he said. "I made a lot of mistakes out there tonight. Everyone saw two good plays; I made five bad ones. I've got to correct those and keep going."
Not a bad start, though. On the other side. Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey -- a noted quarterback tutor -- had to be pretty exasperated with the whole thing.
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