Jasper Brinkley received a crash course in playing middle linebacker in the NFL last season, stepping in for E.J. Henderson after the veteran broke his leg in early December.
Brinkley, who had been a fifth-round pick by the Vikings out of South Carolina last year, started the final four games of the regular season and helped direct the defense from the middle in the Vikings' two playoff games. It probably wasn't an ideal situation but it gave Brinkley extremely valuable experience.
“I definitely feel like I came a long way," he said following the Vikings' minicamp this month. "Last year was a whole lot of learning for me. I call it teach tape. So definitely got in here this offseason and critiqued myself really hard because you’re your [own] worst critic. So [there were] a lot of things I wanted to work on and I came out here and got better [during minicamp].”
That is key because while Henderson said his goal is to return in time for training camp the reality is the doctors are going to have to clear him before he gets back into football action. When that will happen remains uncertain. That means Brinkley must get ready for the 2010 season as if he will be the starting middle linebacker on Sept. 9 at New Orleans.
Brinkley said he is "definitely" preparing as if he will be the starter because "you never know what's going to happen."
Brinkley finished last season with 32 tackles (according to the film review by the Vikings coaches), one tackle for a loss and three hurries. Anyone who watched the Vikings last summer in training camp knew that Brinkley would be very sold in run support because the guy loves to hit. The biggest adjustment came in defending the pass.
The middle linebacker in the Tampa 2 has the responsibility of dropping back into coverage in pass situations and it was clear there were situations when Brinkley had to give too much thought to what he should be doing. Brinkley did not disagree when this was brought up. He said improving his hip movement was essential.
"It’s all about shifting your hips off the quarterback’s eyes and being able to break down on the check downs sometimes," he said. "Just being able to read the route combination and knowing what route is coming by different splits.”
While the 6-foot-1 Brinkley said he currently weighs about 258 pounds, he played his rookie year at 255 and actually might try to get below that weight this season. That also could help Brinkley be quicker against the pass.
A few weeks ago we wrote about how Henderson was helping Brinkley during classroom and film sessions, and Brinkley confirmed the veteran has provided him with plenty of guidance.
“A whole lot," Brinkley said. "It’s kind of like a brotherhood we’re building. Just being able to go out and take what he has given me and using it on the field. It’s great. I don’t think there are too many guys who would do that.”