The Vikings shouldn’t have to verbally express their comfort level with Audie Cole as a spot starter at middle linebacker. Their actions spoke loud and clear during the bye week when they traded starting middle linebacker Gerald Hodges to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick and rookie center Nick Easton.
In making that move, the Vikings declared two things. One, they screamed for all to hear that rookie second-round draft pick Eric Kendricks was ready for his promotion from nickel linebacker to three-down starter. They were right. Kendricks became the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for October.
Secondly, but not as noticeable, the Hodges trade let it be known that the Vikings trust Cole to be Kendricks’ backup. They’ll lean on that trust Sunday when Cole starts for Kendricks, who has been ruled out of the Rams game because of injured ribs that prevented him from practicing this week.
Fortunately for the Vikings, outside linebacker Anthony Barr is expected to play despite being listed on the official injury report as questionable because of a lower back injury. Barr missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but had full participation Friday.
Or, as coach Mike Zimmer put it, “He was full go. Tweet that.”
As for Kendricks, the Vikings will be without a guy who has made a team-high 30 tackles, three sacks and five tackles for loss in his three games as a three-down player. And this figures to be a grind-it-out, gang-tackling game, with Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley entering the game with 566 yards rushing in four starts, the most by a player through four starts since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
Because the Rams are a run-oriented team, the Vikings are likely to stick with their base defense for the majority of the snaps Sunday. When they do go to their nickel sub package, Chad Greenway likely will stay on the field as the second linebacker alongside Barr.
Cole has risen to challenges a couple of times before in his career. In his first of six NFL starts, he had a team season-high 18 tackles and a sack while playing middle linebacker at Green Bay in 2013. In his only start last year, he replaced an injured Greenway at outside linebacker and led the team with 14 tackles.
“He’s a smart guy,” Zimmer said of Cole. “He’s very passionate about his job. He’s always looking for an opportunity to show what he can do. Most of the time when he’s had those opportunities, he’s done well. He takes a lot of pride in his job. He’s a team guy. He brings a lot of value to us, regardless of what he’s doing.”
Cole just shrugged Friday when asked about starting.
“Whenever you get a chance, just go out and do what you’re supposed to do,” he said. “You don’t need to do anything out of the ordinary. Just do what you’re coached to do and hopefully you’ve been paying attention.”
Floyd also out
As expected, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will miss his third consecutive game because of knee and ankle injuries. Floyd, who had arthroscopic surgery to remove cartilage from his knee, has started to run again, so he could be back soon.
Defensive end Justin Trattou (foot) also is out. Eight Vikings players are listed as probable: Cole (finger), defensive tackle Tom Johnson (knee), defensive end Everson Griffen (neck), safety Harrison Smith (neck), receiver Stefon Diggs (hamstring), tight end Rhett Ellison (concussion), offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings (neck) and center Joe Berger (chest).
The Rams will be without defensive end Chris Long (knee).