Minnesota Vikings rookie linebacker Audie Cole lined up against the Buffalo Bills five weeks ago in the team’s second preseason game. Taken in the seventh round by the Vikings in last April’s draft, he needed a play to show that he belonged on the team’s final 53-man roster.
He ended up getting two special plays.
Cole, who finished his NC State career last spring when he graduated, intercepted Buffalo quarterback Tyler Thigpen and returned it for a 20-yard score. On the next play from scrimmage after the kickoff, fresh history repeated itself. Cole picked off another Buffalo quarterback, Brad Smith, and scored another touchdown, that one a 30-yard return to the end zone.
“It was kind of surreal it was happening,” Cole says. “The first one was great and all, but when the second one happened, I was shocked. But that’s what keeps me around and keeps me playing.”
A couple of weeks later, going into the regular season, Cole, whom we checked in with before last April’s draft, was named to the Vikings’ roster. When asked if he thinks those two plays secured him a spot, he dryly laughs. “I don’t think that can hurt your chances,” he says.
At least Cole now feels enough security to move, last week, into his own one-bedroom apartment about a mile from where Minnesota practices. He says Minneapolis reminds him a lot of Raleigh, and that his daily routine isn’t that different from what it was with the Wolfpack, practicing and watching film.
What sticks out to Cole about his rookie journey is how delicate and uncertain a job in the NFL can be. He says it’s hard because a player knows that either himself or the people he’s hanging out with could be gone at any time. And veterans, as well as rookies, are susceptible. A guy is having lunch with a teammate one day and the next day, he’s vanished, like The Usual Suspects‘ Keyser Soze.
“You come into a locker room after a day of cuts, and a guy you were with is gone,” Cole says. “You don’t have four or five years guaranteed. You have one day.”
The Minnesota Vikings take on the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in the NFL’s third week of action.