EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Audie Cole made the most of his playing time in the 2014 season finale.
The Vikings linebacker racked up 14 tackles (11 solo), a tackle for loss and a pass deflection in his one start of the year in starting for an injured Chad Greenway at weakside linebacker. He also had an interception nullified by an offsides penalty.
Cole, a seventh-round pick in 2012, has been making the most of his PT — practice time, that is — during the Vikings offseason program. Cole made one of the most impressive plays by a Viking Wednesday, the second of the team's three-day minicamp, when he nabbed an interception without a flag on the field.
"I was covering (Blake Renaud), and I just saw (Taylor Heinicke) eyeing him up and he threw it right at him," Cole said. "We were having a little battle (for the ball) in there. (Line) was fighting me, but I got it away from him."
An observer commented that the play was shades of the 2012 preseason game against Buffalo when Cole returned two interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive plays from scrimmage.
RELATED: Timeout with Audie Cole
Contact by linebackers and other Vikings defenders is restricted during the offseason program, but perhaps more important, mistakes also have been limited.
"The linebackers, we've all been having a good spring so far," Cole said. "I think we've been kind of limited in our mistakes and playing pretty well so when you're playing alright, it's kind of fun to be out here and a good time.
View images from day one of this week's mandatory mini-camp.
"We're limited in contact, but you've still got to be in the right position," Cole added. "I mean, the contact, everyone out here has had contact and they know how to take on blocks and hit and stuff. As long as you're in the right position now, when camp comes around, we'll be right where we need to be."
Anthony Barr, a first-round pick of the Vikings who started 12 games at strongside linebacker last season before being sidelined with an injury said he liked what he's seeing from Cole as the Vikings consider options to replace Jasper Brinkley at middle linebacker.
"I like what Audie has done playing the middle," said Barr, who has been participating more this week. "He's done a great job, comes in every day and works very hard, is very focused and rarely makes mistakes, so I think he's going to be great for us this year."
Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer said he's also liked what he's seen from Cole going into year two of this defensive system and his fourth pro season overall.
"Audie is going to try to do everything you ask him the exact way you ask him to," Zimmer said. "When he's gotten into games, he's made a lot of plays, so I'm really happy with the way Audie has progressed this offseason as well. He's worked hard at it, he's started to become more vocal, he's done a good job with making our adjustments on defense. I have high hopes for Audie and think he's going to contribute for us this year."
The Vikings offense has involved running backs and fullbacks in the passing game throughout the offseason program, which in turn, involves the linebackers in coverage. There's also pre-snap movements the offense utilizes to provide more wrinkles for defenders to iron out.
"I guess we're kind of used to it. We see them every day, but we see a lot of things from them and they've always got something throwing us off, but I think it's a good thing," Cole said. "If we can do it now, I'd say they do a lot more moving than a lot of teams do, so getting it and looking at it now is better than seeing it for the first time in September."
Cole finished second on the Vikings with 12 special teams tackles (10 solo) last season, one shy of the team-high by Vikings Special Teams Player of the Year Andrew Sendejo. Cole also worked at all three linebacker positions, which is another valuable attribute, Zimmer said.
"The last game of the year against Chicago, he played our 'Will' linebacker because Chad was hurt and didn't miss a beat," Zimmer said. "It was the first time he played 'Will' all season, so his intelligence and willingness to do whatever is asked of him is a great quality to have."
Drop, and give him 10
Xavier Rhodes was unable to corral an interception later in practice that he wished he had nabbed. The near miss netted him a debt of 10 pushups owed to Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray. Terence Newman also opted to do a set after nearly nabbing an interception with a higher degree of difficulty.
Rhodes and Newman later, however, helped Gray collect another debt from rookie Trae Waynes after a tipped pass eluded the first rounder. Rhodes, Newman and veteran Captain Munnerlyn (out with a foot injury) encircled Waynes and counted out as the debt was settled.
Hall of Fame guest
Last week, former Cowboys defensive lineman Greg Ellis visited Winter Park to help refine techniques and share what helped him be a consistent force for 12 years. On Wednesday, Troy Aikman, a man Ellis teamed with for three seasons, visited Winter Park.
The Hall of Fame and six-time Pro Bowl quarterback spoke with Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall in this video.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner, who coached Aikman in the same capacity from 1991-93, told reporters "Troy just was in town on some personal stuff, so he stopped by to see practice. He and Coach (Mike) Zimmer have had a long standing relationship. It's nice to have him around here."
Aikman started his streak of six straight Pro Bowls under Turner's tutelage in 1991, and the men won back to back Super Bowls after the 1992 and '93 seasons with a 6-0 mark in the playoffs. Mike Zimmer arrived in Dallas on the defensive side of the ball in 1994, and a year later, the Cowboys claimed another crown.
The Vikings continued the general approach they took Tuesday for reps at the right guard spot with rookie Tyrus Thompson with the ones and classmate Austin Shepherd with the twos. Fellow rookie T.J. Clemmings took snaps at right tackle with the twos. Brandon Fusco was moved from right guard to left guard for the offseason program, and the Vikings also had David Yankey take some reps at LG with the ones.