Audie Cole holding strong in middle linebacker battle

MANKATO, Minn. -- As the Minnesota Vikings broke training camp on Thursday afternoon, Audie Cole still seemed to have an edge on rookie Eric Kendricks for the team's middle linebacker spot. Cole, who broke up a pass and forced a fumble in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game on Sunday night, has worked with the Vikings' first-team defense all week, and coach Mike Zimmer sounded intrigued by what the 6-foot-4 Cole could bring to the defense playing next to the 6-foot-5 Anthony Barr.

"There is something to be said about having tall linebackers," Zimmer said. "He tipped that one ball that ended up getting caught, but when the guys are 6-4, you have him and Barr in there, you have two big linebackers. It’s harder to throw in the seams. The big guys who can run have a little bit more punch to them than the little guys who can run."

Kendricks played 29 snaps on Sunday against Pittsburgh. Zimmer's biggest coaching point for the exuberant rookie was that he needed to slow down.

"He wants to go get there so fast that sometimes he overruns things," Zimmer said. "He can be a little bit more patient. He needs to just settle down and do what he can do. That's really it, just settling down and feeling more comfortable, I think."

I'll admit I thought Kendricks would have a firm hold on the middle linebacker job by now, though Cole deserves credit for tilting the competition in a different direction. The Vikings could end up splitting the difference, with Cole in the game as a middle linebacker in the base defense and Kendricks in with the nickel. That'd probably require someone else -- possibly Barr or safety Harrison Smith -- to run the defensive huddle, but it'd give the Vikings another option to use Cole's size and Kendricks' coverage skills.

"That's how it was for us last year (at middle linebacker), a little bit situation-based as well," Zimmer said. "We are going to try to use each player to their strength the best we can and however we have to do it and we might have to substitute some guys in there for certain situations, but Audie did a good job the other night."