Cole earns Vikings starting spot at middle linebacker over Henderson

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 27, 2013 - 7:59 PM

Regardless of Erin Henderson’s personal issues and his Nov. 19 arrest on charges of drunken driving and possession of a controlled substance, the on-the-field bottom line is this:

Audie Cole, the guy who was released three weeks ago to make room for a third offensive tackle in the Washington game, has beaten Henderson out for the starting middle linebacker job for Sunday’s game against the Bears at Mall of America Field. That’s what happens when a backup steps in with 18 tackles and a sack in his NFL debut against the Packers at Lambeau Field.

“Well, Audie earned — from my perspective, along with our coaches’ — the right to start this ballgame,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We came back on Monday, looked at the tape and verified some of the things that we saw in the game. And you say, ‘How do you just sit this guy down and not give him a chance to show if he can continue this?’ So we made the decision based on the way he performed, and we’ll get a chance to see him play this Sunday and see how he does.”

Frazier also said Henderson would not be moved back to weakside linebacker, where he started before this season.

Corner depth concerns

The Vikings have three options at cornerback if they feel they need more depth heading into Sunday’s game. One option is giving some snaps to Shaun Prater, who has played well on special teams since being signed on Oct. 22.

“I think he’s up to speed enough now where we could put him in for some snaps on defense,” Frazier said. “He hasn’t been with us that long, but we’ve been force-feeding him along the way. So we think he could get in the game and function.”

Other options would include promoting a practice squad player. The Vikings have two corners on their practice squad, Robert Steeples and Kip Edwards, a 6-1, 195-pounder who was signed this week.

Cassel remembers

Sunday is the anniversary of the murder-suicide tragedy involving former Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend before driving to team headquarters to commit suicide in front of then-coach Romeo Crennel and former General Manager Scott Pioli.

“I just remember coming into the stadium,” said Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel, who was with Kansas City last year. “Police were everywhere. Helicopters. … So we sat there in the locker room and nobody really knew what was going on.

“Then coach Crennel, I remember coming in. … I just remember it kind of takes the breath out of you, the emotion of it. So there was crying. A moment of silence. We said a prayer.”

Etc.

• Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes and receiver Joe Webb both passed the first stage of the NFL’s protocol for returning from a concussion. They underwent the exertion test Wednesday and will be cleared to return if they are symptom-free on Thursday.

• Safety Harrison Smith, who is on injured reserve with the designation to return, won’t be eligible to return to practice until Friday. Smith is eligible to play in the final three games.

• Kicker Blair Walsh was named NFC special teams player of the week after his success managing the challenges that come with kicking in single-digit windchill weather on the grass at Lambeau. “The cold was definitely restricting the ball flight a little bit,” said Walsh, who made all four field-goal attempts, including a long of 47. “It would probably knock it down anywhere from 5-10 yards. We did a good job during the week in getting practice just outside in conditions like that. I think when the game happened, we were ready for it.”

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