J. Brinkley: A Championship Level Commitment
Perhaps surprisingly for a coach revered for his high-flying offenses, the clear-cut star going into the 2007 season is linebacker Jasper Brinkley, a defensive player. It is appropriate, however, since the USC defense will have to make dramatic improvement over its performnce from last season if the team is to contend for an SEC championship.
In Brinkley's first year at South Carolina, the team suffered five heart-breaking losses to SEC opponents, four of them being decided by a touchdown or les. Brinkley spoke about what he and his teammates have learned from those losses heading into the fall. "Auburn, Arkansas, we were right there. After the Auburn game, we knew we could play with the big guys. I think we were as good as Tennessee last year; we just didn't take advantage of every opportunity we had," he said.
USC had a last second field goal blocked by eventual national champion Florida, and he said of that game, "Everyone felt like we should have won that game. We played our hearts out. It all paid off in the end with the Clemson game."
Including the win over arch-rival Clemson and a bowl win, USC finished 2006 with a three game winning streak. "I feel like everybody is going to be able to carry a little bit of that success on," Brinkley said.
In reference to the close losses last season, Brinkley insists it wasn't a talent issue. "It was just not doing the right thing over and over again. That's one thing we're working on this year - being consistent with everything," he said. Brinkley then spoke of what he and the team have been doing since last season ended to take the team to another level this fall. "The level of commitment for offseason workouts this year was just awesome. There's been so much commitment that I just can't see us failing this year. With this level of commitment the players are saying, ‘I'll commit to this... by me doing this...' each part of the team, we're not going to let the school down. We're going to play every down with 100%."
Brinkley expressed disappointment with the team's ninth place finish in the SEC in defensive statistics last year, and set a goal for this season: "If you want to be successful, you've got to finish in the top three."
In talking about how the team will make such a dramatic improvement, in addition to the commitment he feels the entire team is giving in preparation for this year, he also referenced a difference in leadership: "The seniors are being more vocal this year than they were last year. Everyone has a feeling that we have a chance to do something special this year."
Jasper Brinkley, who led the Gamecocks with 107 tackles and 14.5 tackles for loss a year ago, is a pre-season First Team All-SEC selection heading into the 2007 campaign.
With fall practice in full swing, the defense has noticeably improved over last fall's unit. "We're definitely going to be a lot better this year. Everybody's understanding what his gap is, what specific things we each need to work on to make us that much better at our position. Everybody! I think it's going to be great for us."
Brinkley talked about another difference he saw during the offseason seven-on-seven sessions, which the players conducted themselves over the summer to prepare for fall practice and the upcoming season: "We have some very explosive new players defensively and offensively," he said, making intense hand motions to drive home his point. Referring to the new players on the team, he said, "Travian Robertson, Cliff Matthews, Clifton Geathers, on ‘D', the whole class of incoming wide receivers are speedy – you have something to look forward to this year, guys. Their work ethic, how hard they go every play is what makes them stand out. I admire them for that; I think they're going to be some special players."
The fall practices have seen a lot of reps by the two quarterbacks expected to contend for the backup position to starting senior quarterback Blake Mitchell. Brinkley talked about Mitchell and what he expects from him this season. "A quarterback like Blake, you can't sit back and give him time to see how he's going to manipulate the safeties. You give him all that time; he's going to pick you apart."
Brinkley discussed what he wants to improve on and accomplish personally, both to help his team and to improve his NFL draft status for 2008: "I have some things I need to work on. I need to play better than I did last year. Instead of having 107 tackles I need to have 112. I need to force fumbles, and I need to have some interceptions. We just need to be a great defensive team."
As much responsibility as Brinkley is taking for his personal and team responsibilities today, he is frank about why he is only entering his second season on the major college level. "It was my fault - not going to school and taking care of business academically. When I go talk to the smaller kids, I tell them that the situation I had to go through and the route I had to take going through junior college, it's not a route they should look forward to. I went to a military college. If it wasn't for that and the discipline I learned there, there's no telling what I would be at home doing right now."
A Georgia native, Brinkley talked about the key early season matchup with his home state team, and what the Gamecocks have to do to win this season's showdown with the Bulldogs: "Every man has to play his assignment. Last year, we didn't make our assignments, and they spread us out and ran the ball on us. As long as everybody plays their assignment, I believe we'll have a chance to beat them this year. Just because I'm from Georgia, it's a little different game. I didn't get to beat them last year, and I want to beat them this year."
Spurrier's proclamation that South Carolina is ready to compete for the SEC championship has special meaning to Brinkley. "It means a lot to me, because the coach believes and trusts in us that the guys can go out and take care of business. This year is the first year he's really said something like that. When you've been coaching as long as he has and he says you have a good team, I'm pretty sure he knows it. As he believes it, I'm believing it too. I can't think of one time he's been wrong in things he has told us."
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