Jap: Like a dog ready to be let off a chain
It was hard for a player with a highly competitive nature like Jasper Brinkley to stand on the sidelines and watch the 2007 season go down in flames after his and Nathan Pepper's injuries. Pepper is still in the process of rehabbing his torn ACL and is expected to contribute this fall, but Brinkley says he is 100% ready to play.
"I'm ready. I really haven't lost a step." he said. "Last season it was really tough for me, I'm a competitor, and I always want to be on the field. When it did happen (the injury) it was a heartbreaker, watching my team go into a slump on a five game losing streak. I kind of wanted to pull my hair out."
Looking past 2007, he stated that he thinks South Carolina will be able to rebound this year, because the team is hungry to win.
"I remember Coach Spurrier telling me the first year I got here that you're only as good as the last game you won. So we're not that good right now. On the defense, we have been putting in extra time just to better ourselves as players."
He not only missed the last eight games of the last season, but also missed all the contact in spring practice while rehabbing his injured knee.
"I'm in tip top shape," he said. "I'm going to try to play relentless, like I used to."
He emphasized that he felt every bit as comfortable as he did before the injury.
At 270 pounds, Brinkley is one of the biggest linebackers in the SEC, and he joked that size runs in his family.
"In my family, we're just big anyway." he laughed. In a more serious tone, he said, "I think I'm gifted with the speed that I have. I don't see too many guys with my size that can move like me."
When asked if he would ease into contact - after he stated that he had "not taken a shot yet" on the repaired knee - or if he would go "full bore," he chuckled as he replied, "Oh yeah, I‘m going to go full bore. I'm ready. It's going to be like a dog on a chain, when you (finally) let him go into a dog fight."
The return of Brinkley, Pepper, and Captain Munnerlyn - who was injured later in the season - is not the only reason Steve Spurrier is optimistic about his defense this year. The coach also cited the offseason hiring of new Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson. Brinkley was asked about what his new boss on the defense brought to the team.
"He has brought a lot more mental toughness, and a lot more physical toughness." Brinkley said.
The defense has been learning how the new coach runs things, and a greater emphasis than ever on physical conditioning is one area that has stood out to Brinkley.
"Extra running, up downs, doing things his way."
There is one other major difference Johnson brings that Brinkley stressed.
"More attitude," he said. "Running backs, we're going to be laying them out, we're going to be tearing them up."
He was also quick to defend Tyrone Nix, the defensive coordinator that Johnson replaced that he played for his first two seasons at Carolina.
"Nix put us in the right positions; we just didn't make the plays."
Brinkley was named to the pre-season 1st team All-SEC defensive team before both last season and last week at the SEC Media Days. "It's a blessing they still believe I can do it," he said.
The linebacker, who made an unprecedented second straight trip to Hoover, frequently found himself being asked to respond to statements his coach had said just prior to his own Q&A. Spurrier made headlines last year when he proclaimed his team ready to compete for the SEC title. This year, while stating that is still the team's ultimate goal, he kept his statements on that issue on a lower key.
Spurrier did say that in the areas of depth and experience, this year's team is probably better than last year's. Brinkley agreed, saying, "We probably are a better team."
You can tell this is one of the Head Ball Coach's guys, he was preaching the company line when he repeated oft-used Spurrierisms: "We have to take them one game at a time. We can't control what's going to happen down the road, (but) we can control what's going to happen August 28."
The Gamecocks open the 2008 season on that date against the NC State Wolfpack.
Another potentially insignificant response that Spurrier gave to a question was that perhaps his team lacked a little confidence. Maybe. Brinkley, however, was adamant in stating that he doesn't think so.
"I don't think we lack any confidence. I think we have all the confidence we need. We've got the athletes to get it done, we (just) need to go out and get it done. That's our attitude. Without attitude, you can't accomplish anything. That's not only for football, that's for anything in the world."
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