Brinkley wants chance to start in new system

Jasper Brinkley returns to Minnesota with a new system in place, one he thinks will suit his skills better.

Jasper Brinkley left the Minnesota Vikings when he first became an unrestricted free agent. At the time, a little more than a year ago, the Vikings made little effort to re-sign him and the Arizona Cardinals came calling with an enticing two-year offer and a 3-4 defensive scheme that some felt would suit Brinkley more naturally.

He lasted only one year in Arizona before the Cardinals decided to release him and go with a younger prospect in Kevin Minter. That put Brinkley back out on the open market and he opted to return to the Vikings on a one-year, prove-it type of deal with a new coaching staff and new defense.

It's a defense he believes suits him well.

"Before I left, it was predominantly Cover-2. Now it's more than Cover-2," Brinkley said of the new-look Vikings. "The major thing about it is that the middle linebacker gets to be more involved in the plays in the box (under Mike Zimmer's defense).

"That's all I've ever done my whole life. So it kind of feels great with me."

Under the Vikings' old Tampa-2/Cover-2 defense, the middle linebacker was asked to drop back into coverage often and take away the intermediate middle part of the field. Under Zimmer's defense, the linebacker will be asked to make more tackles in the running game and still have coverage responsibilities in the passing game, but likely not dropping into deep zones quite as often as before.

"The middle linebacker is just really not involved in everything in the box (in the Tampa-2 defense)," he said. "You're more of a pass-first guy. And now you can be more of a run-type guy. That's the only difference."

It's a philosophy that fits Brinkley better. He entered the NFL with a reputation as a hard-hitting linebacker and he will have a chance to display that once again. He also believes he will have a chance to reclaim a starting position at middle linebacker.

"Yeah, I think everybody will. It's all about proving yourself," he said. "I don't think one guy is going to be penciled in right now. It's a new coaching staff. Everybody has to prove themselves."

Brinkley started three games with the Cardinals last year, but a common theme with him re-emerged. Injuries hampered his progress, especially a groin injury suffered in late September that pulled him out of the starting lineup at the inside strong linebacker.

He started a career-high 15 games in his final season with the Vikings, in 2012, but he spent 2011 on injured reserve and started only four games in two seasons prior to that – all of them coming at the end of his rookie season filling in for an injured E.J. Henderson.

Returning to the Vikings this year made sense because he "knew the land" and many of the players in Minnesota, he said. He also likes Zimmer's defensive philosophies, as a whole and for the linebackers specifically.

"Just being able to come downhill and be physical. He stressed that a lot, being physical and being explosive. So that's one of the major things he puts an emphasis on," Brinkley said.

"Being a middle linebacker, a lot is going to be expected. You've got to be a leader on and off the field and carry yourself in a way that most guys are not going to be able to carry themselves. Middle linebackers are the quarterback of the defense."

It won't be the same defense, but Brinkley gets a chance to return to a place where he had the best season of his career. In 2012, he was credited with 99 tackles, and three forced fumbles. That's more than half of his career tackles in four seasons of playing and three-quarters of his forced fumbles.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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