On Saturday, Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was pretty much in the same boat as the thousands of fans at the Vikings draft party. He was a spectator.
As the Vikings used both of their first-day selections to improve their offense and special teams, Frazier had to wait for help to be arriving via the draft for the defensive side of the ball. On Sunday, after already selecting a cornerback, Frazier got another player on his wish list when the Vikings drafted South Carolina linebacker Jasper Brinkley in the fifth round.
Brinkley was rated among the top three or four inside linebackers in the 2009 draft class. But, for whatever reason, the ILB crop took a hit. Projected first-rounders Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis fell into the second round and Brinkley was still on the board when the fifth round began.
The Vikings didn't want to risk the potential of losing him, so they swung a deal with the Redskins – actually trading back the seventh-round pick received from Washington in the Erasmus James trade last spring – to flip-flop fifth round picks and move up eight spots and grab him.
"We were expecting him to be gone," Frazier said. "The fact that he was still there was one of the reasons we ended up moving up to get him. We had him rated a little bit higher than he ended up actually going. It was a coup for us to be able to get him."
Brinkley is expected to step in as a backup to middle linebacker E.J. Henderson. Considering the anticipated role Henderson will have in the middle of the Vikings defense, Frazier said Brinkley's initial contribution may be on special teams. With the Gamecocks, he contributed on all four special teams units – both punting units and both kick teams. Frazier said considering the woes the Vikings had with their special teams last year, getting a player who can be a solid contributor in that area was needed.
"As you know from watching us a season ago, special teams is another phase of winning and losing," Frazier said. "If he can give us something on special teams, especially if he becomes a four-phase guy, that's a big addition to our football team. We really want to improve our special teams. Drafting him, we thought that would be the case."
That being said, Frazier said he isn't pigeon-holing Brinkley as simply a special teams player. He has reputation as being a big hitter who enjoys contact and Frazier said he play really stands out in film study.
"Just how physical he is," Frazier said. "He's a physical football player. When he hits you, he's knocking you back. He's not a drag-down tackler. We really pride ourselves on being able to defend the run and we think he gives us a great backup linebacker where, if something happens like it did a year ago, we have a guy who can step in and keep it going."
Brinkley was the third player from the Southeastern Conference selected by the Vikings in the 2009 draft. Frazier said the quality of opponents from one week to the next gives coaches a good measuring stick of how talented a player is and that makes the move from college to the NFL potentially smoother than players who didn't face top-end opponents consistently.
"When a guy is playing in the SEC, he's playing against the top competition in college football," Frazier said. "You don't believe it's going to be a big transition because of the big stadiums they play in and the hostile crowds on the road. They don't get overwhelmed by the NFL. You do tend to believe the guys coming out of the SEC or the Pac 10 or the Big Ten are a little more ready because of the level of competition."
While his role may be limited to special teams early on, Frazier said the Vikings have built a defensive reputation over the years and that a player like Brinkley merely adds to that swagger.
"Everything with us starts with trying to stop the run," Frazier said. "Every meeting we have with the players starts with how are we going to stop the run this week. To have a guy who is such a great run stuffer as a backup linebacker, it gives us some identity to what we talk about. He should be a great addition simply because of that. He fits in well for what we want to get done."
Frazier gets some ammunition
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