Sid Hartman: Brinkley's play gives Vikings reason for optimism

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 26, 2012 - 11:45 PM

The linebacker, coming back from a hip injury that sidelined him all of last year, looked good against the Chargers after having a rough time to start training camp.

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Chargers quarterback Charlie Whitehurst was sacked by Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley on Friday, one of two sacks for Brinkley on the night.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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There were a limited number of strong performances by the Vikings in Friday's 12-10 exhibition loss to the Chargers, but one player who made coach Leslie Frazier happy was middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who was credited with two sacks and four solo tackles after being a question mark throughout training camp.

Brinkley, who missed all last season because of a hip injury, was limited to two solo and two assisted tackles in the Vikings' first two preseason games, and there was concern whether he was healthy enough to take over a starting role.

The Vikings decided not to re-sign free agent E.J. Henderson, a starter since 2004 -- why, nobody knows. It could be that he was asking for too much money, or it could be that the coaching staff believed that at 32, Henderson had slowed down and couldn't contribute like he had in the past.

Brinkley, a fifth-round draft pick out of South Carolina in 2009, never had a sack in any NFL game before Friday, regular season or preseason.

Frazier was happy to see Brinkley play a lot more aggressively than he had in the two previous games. His play had left some wondering whether the Vikings had to look elsewhere on the roster for a middle linebacker.

"It feels good to be able to go out and have a good night. I mean, I still want to continue to keep getting better, and that's the goal, to get better each and every week and be ready to hit the ground running Week 1," Brinkley said.

"I feel like I'm doing pretty good. It's not just about me, it's about the other 10 guys around me. I feel like everybody played a part in this game for me. That was big.

"For the defense, it's all about going out and giving the offense the most opportunities we can and I felt we kind of did that."

Brinkley said he is ready after sitting out last season and that his hip is no longer an issue.

"I've been ready," he said. "I'm in this game to play football and ready to be a starter."

Until he hurt his hip last preseason, Brinkley had ranked high among Vikings linebackers. However, the word this year was that he didn't have a very good training camp in Mankato, and there was fear that he still wasn't healthy.

But his performance Friday, even though it was against a group of Chargers reserves, was something his coaches have been looking for.

Now the question is can he continue to build on this and erase any worry there might be about the middle linebacking position.

Schedule change

For the next decade, hopefully starting next season against UNLV, the Gophers football team will plan on having its season opener on a Thursday night at TCF Bank Stadium.

"What we're going to do, and the [State] Fair has been very gracious in agreeing with us to play our first home game from hereforth for the next 10 years, we will play on a Thursday night at home prior to Labor Day weekend at TCF," Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague said.

"It won't interfere with the academic calendar and it won't interfere with the Gopher parking at the State Fair.

"Jerry Kill is in favor of it, and we're starting to work in that direction to schedule Thursday night prior to Labor Day weekend."

Teague said he has been at a lot of schools where administrators have tried to solve the riddle of opening the season on Labor Day weekend.

"Let's play Sunday night, people will come back from the lake, let's do it on Saturday or Monday," Teague said. "It's hard to work out. I think Thursday night is a great approach and let's see where it goes."

Jottings

• Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the club has applied to be host of the 2018 Super Bowl, and if by some real luck it is awarded it, the new stadium seating would have to be increased from its originally planned capacity of 66,000 to 73,000 as required to play host to a Super Bowl. ... Bagley also said the Vikings would have to add seats during the period the team plays at TCF Bank Stadium, with a current capacity of just over 50,000, to take care of 52,000 season ticket holders.

• Former Gophers receiver Eric Decker caught two first-quarter touchdown passes from Peyton Manning in the Broncos' 29-24 home preseason loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Decker caught TDs of 10 and 5 yards, finishing with four receptions for 38 yards. Former Gophers quarterback Adam Weber also appeared in the fourth quarter for Denver, completing four of eight passes for 38 yards.

• The Jacksonville Jaguars, the Vikings' opening opponent in the regular season, got destroyed by the Baltimore Ravens in their third preseason game, losing 48-17 on the road Thursday. The Jaguars allowed Baltimore's Joe Flacco to complete 27 of 36 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns.

• Cooper basketball star Rashad Vaughn's Raymond Lewis squad beat Apple Valley standout Tyus Jones' Marques Johnson squad 164-138 at the Under Armour Elite 24 game on Saturday night in Venice Bach, Calif.

Trevor Olson of Richfield and Cory Hanson of DeLaSalle, two former Northern Illinois football players under Kill, have joined the Gophers football staff in volunteer capacities. ... Larry English, who played here for the Chargers on Friday, was a linebacker for Kill at Northern Illinois. According to the Gophers coach, he was an outstanding player who not only committed to Northern Illinois but also stayed with his original choice even after being offered a scholarship by Iowa. English was the 16th overall pick in the 2009 draft.

• James Onwualu, the outstanding Cretin-Derham Hall wide receiver who suffered a serious jaw injury over the summer, scrimmaged the other day. Onwualu has said he will play for Notre Dame, but the Gophers still are recruiting him, just like they are Cooper defensive back Malik Rucker, who has committed to Iowa, and Tartan defensive back Keelon Brookins, who has committed to Wisconsin.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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