Last year, the Vikings made the move to Christian Ponder, hoping to stabilize their quarterback situation for the long term. This year, they are hoping to stabilize the "quarterback of the defense," but questions remain.
E.J. Henderson, the starter for the past eight seasons, hasn't been re-signed and the Vikings are giving every indication that he will be another victim in their youth movement. His injury replacement in 2009, Jasper Brinkley, will get the first chance at replacing him long term.
A fifth-round draft choice in 2009, Brinkley started the final four games of his rookie regular season and two playoff games after Henderson fractured the femur in a December game against the Arizona Cardinals. However, last year it was Brinkley getting injured, suffering a hip injury that required surgery on Aug. 30 and caused him to be placed on season-ending injured reserve on Sept. 3.
Although he said he could have played the final few games of the season if he wasn't on injured reserve, he spent the entire 2011 regular season rehabbing his injury. He took time out from the physical grind on a few occasions to attend meetings, but he said his familiarity with the defense meant he needed to spend more time working on the injury than working on the nuances of the defense.
"I was three years into the defense so I would go in every now and then just to keep my mind fresh with everything that's going on," Brinkley said recently while going through a workout at Winter Park. "Most of all, I was trying to get back to the point that I'm at now. That was the main goal, to get back to running and get back to planting and cutting so I could get ready for this offseason."
Back in March, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman declared Brinkley "100 percent healthy." Given Brinkley's claim that he could have played the final few games of 2011 and his attendance at workouts this month, he is the favorite to win the starting middle linebacker spot as Henderson's replacement.
"I'm back totally, 100 percent. Ready to go," Brinkley said.
"Any drill that Coach may think of, I can do it. I can do it to the best ability of anybody. If Chad (Greenway) can do it, I can do it."
Now the question becomes if Brinkley can do it on the field. He will be challenged by free-agent signee Marvin Mitchell, who started two games in 2009 with the New Orleans Saints. Mitchell played four seasons with the Saints before joining the Miami Dolphins last year and then signing a one-year deal with the Vikings. The Vikings also drafted Audie Cole in the seventh round, and he could eventually compete for playing time on the defense, as well.
Brinkley has been one of the special-teams leaders since being a fifth-round draft choice in 2009, but his rookie season was the last time he had extensive action or made a start on defense. Back then, Leslie Frazier was the defensive coordinator. Last year, it was Fred Pagac. Now, Frazier is the head coach, Pagac is back to coaching linebackers, and Alan Williams was brought in from Indianapolis to be the defensive coordinator.
"I'm pretty sure it won't be too much of a difference because both of them were pretty familiar with this scheme," Brinkley said of Pagac and Williams. "Coach Williams pretty much let us know that we're going to do what we do best and that's go out and play football, play smart and play fundamental.
"I really haven't gotten a look at it, but I'm pretty sure it won't be as much of a change as we all probably think it will be. Like I say, they ran a Cover-2 scheme in Indy so I'm pretty sure it won't be too much of a difference."
The scheme might not change much, despite a new defensive coordinator, but the player in the middle of that defense will. Brinkley is hoping he's the man making the calls after Henderson has been performing that function since becoming a starter in 2004.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Brinkley's on the brink of starting job
Viking Update Top Stories
Diggs active for Vikings, two WRs inactiveThe Minnesota Vikings are getting their leading receiver back in the lineup, but they will be missing two other receivers.
Viking Update8:17 AM
Sunday slant: ‘No coddling’ in film sesssionsMike Zimmer is the “straight-up coach” in film sessions, not afraid to call out a player about a mistake in front of the team. Several of his defenders describe the experience.
Viking Update5:44 AM
Preview: Vikings facing aggressive EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings’ continued success on Sunday will be predicated on their ability to handle and exploit the aggressiveness of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:26 PM
Roads wins becoming a Vikings trademarkSince 2009, few teams struggled as badly as the Minnesota Vikings when it came to winning on the road. Since their 2015 bye week to their 2016 bye week, nobody has been better.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:20 PM