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Cole and Blanton: Stepping In and Stepping Up

Posted Dec 13, 2013

A silver lining in the Vikings 3-9-1 season to this point has been the performance of the 2013 draft class, a development that doesn’t take away the sting of a non-playoff season but does bode well for future playoff pushes.

But there’s even more good news. Solid performances from this year’s draft picks is being complemented by impressive performances from two members of last year’s draft class – defensive back Robert Blanton and linebacker Audie Cole.

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Cole’s performance has been most noticeable, as he’s stepped into the middle linebacker role the past three games and has been a standout. He leads the Vikings in tackles since Week 12, collecting 18 against the Green Bay Packers in his first career start and following that with a pair of 12-tackle outings at home against Chicago and at Baltimore. Cole recorded a sack on the first play of his first start and has 3.0 tackles for loss in the last three games.

“Audie’s been pretty steady in that role,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “He’s also gotten his hands on some balls. That play he had on that first third down (against Chicago) could have easily been a pick-six. I wish he would have caught that ball, but just his awareness, being able to see the quarterback’s eyes, getting in position to make that play is a big step. And he has made some splash plays, but he’s done enough for where we are to watch him and see if he continues to grow because he’s doing some good things.”

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Another player doing plenty of good things is Blanton. He’s been a standout on special teams all season and is tied with Larry Dean for the team lead in special teams stops with 17. But Blanton’s recent string of high-performance play has also come on defense. He has 16 tackles and five PBUs in the past three weeks, and his best performance may have also come at Lambeau Field when he was effective in guarding Jordy Nelson.

How have Blanton’s coaches evaluated the second-year defensive back of late?

“Oustanding. But don’t tell Robert that just yet,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said with a smile. “For someone who didn’t get a lot of reps early, and that’s coming in and playing like he’s playing, we’re very pleased. But what I’m looking for is that over the course of time. Two ballgames, three ballgames, good. What makes a good player is playing consistent ball over the course of time.”

Injuries have hurt the Vikings defense in 2013, but talented, young players such as Blanton and Cole have helped the Vikings overcome some of those injuries and should also have the Vikings feeling good about the development of young players.