Chad Greenway and rookie Anthony Barr are locked in at weakside and strongside linebacker, respectively, but the middle linebacker position in the base defense is likely to be a battle that continues throughout the preseason.
Jasper Brinkley, re-acquired by the Vikings in free agency after one season with the Arizona Cardinals, started Friday night’s preseason opener and was part of a first-team defense that went three-and-out in both of the series they played.
“The sky is the limit, I hope. My expectations I’m sure are the same as the coaches, for us to be in the top category in everything – run, pass, overall defense,” Brinkley said.
Friday night was a good start at that. That Oakland Raiders started with a false-start penalty that put them in an early hole and the Vikings got an incompletion on third-and-9 after Brinkley stopped running back Maurice Jones-Drew for a 6-yard gain on second down.
The Raiders, down 7-0 after Matt Cassel led a touchdown drive on Minnesota’s first series, started their next drive with another penalty – this time a facemask – and quarterback Matt Schaub threw another third-down incompletion.
“Talking about the middle linebacker, I know that’s one of your big things, but Jasper made some nice plays,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “He had one misfit on a run that busted out of there and we didn’t do a good job in the secondary. I tell our guys all the time, long runs are typically because of perimeter run force.”
Brinkley said the defense has “a lot of things” to clean up, but he also found plenty of positives in the defenders’ initial outing in Zimmer’s defense.
“A lot of things we can clean up on. We had a lot of guys hustle to the ball,” he said. “When you have that, that’s good. That’s a great sign.”
Said Zimmer: “I think we’re starting to develop a physical mindset with this football team.”
Brinkley said it’s “very exciting” to see what the Vikings defense could become with Zimmer’s aggressive style, and he could be in the middle of it making the calls on defense. He also knows there is a battle for his job, with Audie Cole the primary competition.
“It’s still training camp and every day is like an interview. I still have to go out and put my best foot forward,” Brinkley said.
“I think it’s all 11 of us out there. We’re taking care of our responsibilities. No guys are trying to do other guys’ jobs. Everybody is taking care of their own responsibility, and when you have 11 guys doing that, then great things are going to happen.”
Zimmer said he wanted to see the Vikings do a better job of taking advantage of field position and dictating that facet of the game more consistently, pointing out several situations that cost the team yardage.
Brinkley expects the game plan could ramp up for the second preseason game Saturday night against the Arizona Cardinals.
“Definitely feel confident. It’s just guys out there communicating, over-communicating. When you have 11 guys that are communicating like the way we were, it’s hard to mess up like that,” Brinkley said.
With mostly the first-team defense giving up only 44 yards in the first quarter and holding the Cardinals to 0-for-2 in third-down conversions, it was a good start for the defense and Brinkley, but the middle linebacker said there were some alignment issues that need to be corrected.
If he can limit his own mistakes, that would bode well for his chances to retain the starting spot.
SUNDAY A.M. NOTES
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.