The Vikings selected Jasper Brinkley in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL draft out of South Carolina, and he played here for four seasons before the Cardinals won out over the Giants for the free-agent linebacker last offseason.
Brinkley, by his own admission, didn’t have a great season last year, and Arizona released him Feb. 28 in a salary cap move. That opened the door for his return to the Vikings on a one-year deal.
“I had an OK, so-so year [in Arizona], it wasn’t what I expected,” he said. “I had a small groin injury there, had a tweaked groin and was just trying to get back on the field. But they played great last year.”
Brinkley spent his first two years with the Vikings primarily as a backup, totaling 48 tackles and one forced fumble in 2009 and ’10. He missed all of 2011 due to a hip injury, but he came back to win a starting job at middle linebacker in 2012, when he had 99 tackles and forced three fumbles.
While playing with the Cardinals, Brinkley had only 27 tackles, 23 of them solo. He started only three of 15 games and didn’t mesh well with the team’s 3-4 defensive scheme.
Brinkley said that he’s happy to be back with the Vikings.
“You know, it feels great. It feels great to be back,” he said. “This is where I started, and this is like family.”
He was asked if there was any particular reason he decided to return to Minnesota.
“This is where it started, where everything started for me,” Brinkley said. “This has always been home for me. I had the opportunity to come back home, and I wanted to utilize that opportunity.”
Brinkley added that he wasn’t surprised that the Vikings wanted him back, despite the fact that he had a difficult year last season.
“The guys around here they knew what I brought to the table,” he said, “and they know I’m a ferocious run defender, and I’m going to leave it all out on the field.”
Brinkley will be playing middle linebacker this season under defensive coordinator George Edwards and said the new system will be different from what he saw with the Cardinals, and what he previously played with the Vikings.
“It’s not based out of Cover-2 here,” Brinkley said. “It has been going pretty good [so far], you know, just a learning process trying to get the new scheme down and get comfortable with it.”
Likes young pitchers
If the Twins ever decide they need starting pitching help, veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki believes they have two young arms at Class AAA Rochester who are prepared for the big-league club.
Suzuki has had the opportunity to catch a number of the Twins best pitching prospects, including Kyle Gibson in the majors this year, and Trevor May and Alex Meyer in spring training.
Suzuki talked about the early impressions he got from May and Meyer, who are impressing at Rochester. May is 6-4 with a 2.98 ERA and 67 strikeouts over 66⅓ innings, and Meyer is 4-3 with a 3.62 ERA and 76 strikeouts over 64⅔ innings.
“They’re definitely power arms. Those two guys have really good arms, they throw the ball extremely hard and they can pitch,” Suzuki said. “They’re guys that have an idea of what they want to do out there, and they’re not just up there throwing as hard as they can. They have good arms but they also have a feel for pitching.
“That’s really important because at the major league level guys that just throw, throw, throw, they tend to not do so well. So having those guys that have power arms and have pitching ability and know what they want to do is always a plus.”
Meanwhile, Suzuki said Gibson has been steady all season, but he couldn’t say why the 26-year-old righthander had been so much better at home than on the road. He is 4-1 with a 1.54 ERA and .213 batting average against at home, and even after Friday’s seven excellent innings in a 2-0 victory at Detroit, he is still only 2-4 with a 5.91 ERA and .275 average against on the road.
“I don’t think there is any one thing that really causes those splits,” Suzuki said. “It’s just sometimes guys get a little bit more luck at home. He has been throwing great all year, it’s just one of those things you can’t really explain.”
Lucia likes freshmen
Gophers men’s hockey coach Don Lucia looks for help from a number of freshmen next season.
“On defense we have Steve Johnson, who is from Minnetonka, and Jack Glover and Ryan Collins both played on the U.S. national team developmental program,” Lucia said. “Leon Bristedt, our young man from Sweden who is actually going to be in Lake Placid this summer with the Swedish team that will be contending for spots in the world junior team … we think he has a chance to be a real good player. Those four are probably the ones that we’re really looking to continue to make our team better this year.”
• Las Vegas oddsmakers expect the Vikings to be underdogs in at least four of their first five games, including the first three: at St. Louis, New England at home and at New Orleans, as well as at Green Bay in Week 5. The Patriots, Saints and Packers were playoff teams last year.
• The three finalists to manage the new Vikings stadium are the Anschutz Entertainment Group, Global Spectrum and SMG.
• Former Gophers basketball player Trevor Mbakwe wrapped up a solid season playing for Virtus Roma in Italy last week. He averaged 10.6 points and 10.1 rebounds over 37 games. He added 1.5 blocks per contest, but the Timberwolves have no interest in signing him. … Former Gophers guard Austin Hollins had a recent tryout with the Wolves, but he won’t receive an invitation to play with their summer league team in Las Vegas.
• Vikings cornerback Jabari Price reported his lone college visit out of high school in Pompano Beach, Fla., was to Minnesota and he committed to the Gophers, but the seventh-round draft pick backed out at the last minute and enrolled at North Carolina instead.
• One problem Michael Cuddyer has had over his career is missing games because of injuries, and the former Twins star is now unlikely to appear in the All-Star Game after going on the disabled list for the second time this year with Colorado. He missed 28 days earlier this season because of a strained hamstring and now he is out six to eight weeks after injuring his left shoulder diving while playing third base.
• Major League Baseball has sold upward of 90,000 tickets for the All-Star Fan Fest July 11-15 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It’s expected that around 110,000 people will attend the event, which will feature dozens of Hall of Famers and Twins legends.