With a reputation as a hard-hitting linebacker coming out of South Carolina, Jasper Brinkley is hoping to continue that part of his reputation while proving he can also cover running backs and tight ends.
In fact, the compliment he received time and again coming out of college seems to still be dogging how he thinks people perceive him: As a "thumper" that isn't adept at coverage.
"I really haven't had to change much in my game. Coming out of college, that's just what some scouts dubbed me at – just a hitter. But I can cover and I guess I can show it to you guys this year – to all the critics. I can show all the critics this year," Brinkley said.
Brinkley's predraft scouting report read much like he remembers.
"Brinkley fills gaps effectively and is a good run stuffer. He will get caught up in traffic some when trying to flow to the sideline, but he can make plays in the box," draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. wrote of Brinkley before the 2009 draft.
But many of the analysts acknowledged that he performed well in the speed drills once he got to a better weight – he dropped 10 pounds from January's East-West Shrine game until February's NFL Scouting Combine in 2009, producing a 4.67-second time in the 40-yard dash.
Still, Brinkley seems to still feel the sting of being classified as a one-dimensional linebacker three years ago.
"Oh yeah, just because people say I can't play pass coverage, (that) I might be a liability in the pass coverage. Like I talked to Coach (Leslie) Frazier, that's something I can't worry about," Brinkley said. "I just have to go out there and do what I'm capable of doing. I can't try to play outside of my body, just do what I can do."
Brinkley will control his own destiny in that regard. Coming off a hip injury that caused him to be placed on injured reserve before the 2011 season began, the Vikings still had enough confidence in his ability that they elected not to re-sign E.J. Henderson, their starting linebacker since 2004.
Brinkley only starts in the NFL came at the end of the 2009 season, when the Vikings were making a run to the NFC Championship game and Henderson was knocked out of action with a fractured femur in December. Brinkley started the final four games of the regular season and the two playoff games, finishing the year with 32 tackles, one tackle for a loss and three quarterback hurries during the regular season.
He had back-to-back 10-tackle games in the regular season, and he was part of a franchise playoff record when the Vikings held the Dallas Cowboys to three points in the postseason. In the next game, the Vikings defense held the No. 1 ranked New Orleans Saints offense – primarily known for their passing attack – to 257 yards.
"I learned a whole lot, not only from Coach (Fred) Pagac, but actually E.J. and Chad (Greenway) and Ben (Leber), when Ben was here," Brinkley said of his rookie season. "(Last year), I had two great linebacker coaches and there is so much to be learned by both of those guys and every day I try to take something from each one of them. I feel like if can do that every day, the sky is the limit for the linebacking corps."
Greenway indicated that speed shouldn't be a deterrent to Brinkley's first season as a starter.
"He's an extremely gifted athlete. For 255 or whatever he's weighing these days, he can run, he can move. We think a lot of him in our room and we hope he takes full advantage of the opportunity that most likely is going to be given," Greenway said.
"… I think he's happy with where he's at (in his recovery from hip surgery), and that's the most important thing. He feels really comfortable. And he's been in the room with our coaches and understanding what's going to be asked of him at that position. And he's obviously played that position before, so he knows. It's just when you take a year off, it's going to take a little while to get back into it. You just keep moving around, you know a lot more."
Brinkley said he hasn't had any setbacks in his recovery. Now, after spending three years behind Henderson – and in the final year of his rookie contract – Brinkley is finally getting his opportunity.
"I knew I would get the chance, but it's up to me to continue to earn it," he said. "Nothing is given to you in this league. You just have to go out there and earn your keep every day. That's my mindset, just out there and earn your keep every day."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Brinkley fueled by ‘critics'
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