RALEIGH — N.C. State's Audie Cole has a new position and different responsibilities on the football field.
One part of his job hasn't changed: finding the ball and knocking the daylights out of people.
After starting the past two years at outside linebacker, with plenty of room to roam and hit, Cole was moved to middle linebacker in the Wolfpack's spring practices. Not only was Cole moved inside, he was replacing Nate Irving, one of the ACC's best and an inspirational leader for the defense last season in his final year.
"They are big shoes to fill, and I hope I enjoy it," Cole said Thursday after practice. "I do feel like I'm getting real comfortable there.
"It's like being in a classroom. You sit in the same seat every day, then you move to the other side of the room and it's like you're in a different room. It takes some getting used to."
Defensive coordinator Mike Archer said there was some initial hesitation on Cole's part to make the shift heading into his senior year.
"There's always going to be," Archer said. "When you're outside, everything is coming from one direction. You move in the middle and everything is coming from two directions, so the reads are different, the concepts are different."
Cole, a native of Monroe, Mich., had the concepts of his position down well after 25 starts. He tied for the team lead with 97 tackles last season at "SAM" linebacker and had 10.5 tackles for a loss.
Cole had a career-high 13 stops in the Pack's 29-25 win at North Carolina, then 11 tackles in a 38-31 loss to Maryland that cost State a spot in the ACC championship game.
Cole matter-of-factly said he "messed up some things early" in spring drills after the move to the middle.
"But it's all about limiting your mistakes," he said. "I feel like I'm getting real comfortable there. In doing the same things every day, I'm getting used to the position."
Cole has the size at 6 feet 5 and 239 pounds to hold his own in the churning, pounding and general chaos that goes on inside the tackles. He has the smarts, the instincts.
"Obviously, you have to be strong down the middle," Archer said. "We had Nate last year, and he was able to play all 13 games and our defense was obviously better. We moved Audie there with the intention that we remain strong there.
"There's a lot of things he does well - his understanding of our pass defense, getting people lined up. He's been in the system now and he feels comfortable. That's the biggest plus."
Cole said he's no rah-rah type. He's not the type to come back to sideline breathing fire, barking at everybody to play harder.
"I think of myself as a leader and stuff, but I don't go out of my way to do it," Cole said. "I just try to do the right things. If I do the right things, on and off the field, people are going to follow.
"I'm not a big yeller or talker. But I will help people out and try to lead by example."
Archer, for one, expects Cole to do that - and do it as well as Irving.
"He's a lot like Nate," Archer said. "Audie's a leader. Audie was a leader last year. There were times last year Audie took over for Nate on the field.
"That's one thing Audie brings to the table: he's been a leader here for two years."
While proud of the Pack's stouter defense last season, Cole was not pleased with the outcome of the season. State went 9-4, whipped West Virginia 23-7 in the Champs Sports Bowl and finished nationally ranked, but Cole wanted more.
"We won nine games and it's good and it looks good on paper, but it was very disappointing," he said. "I feel like the games we did lose, we gave them away. We were up 17-0 in one [against Virginia Tech] and up 14 against Maryland.
"I felt like we could have won every single game. It was in our hands and we lost because of our mistakes. That's what we have to improve on this year, cutting down mistakes and holding on to leads."
Sounds like someone to follow.
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