One to watch: LB Jasper Brinkley

Other players may grab the headlines for shorter stints in the Vikings' preseason opener, but there is one rookie that should get plenty of playing time and plenty of opportunities to leave his mark … on his coaches and his opponents. Linebacker Jasper Brinkley is gaining a reputation as a big hitter in practices. See what he and coaches say about his abilities.

Jasper Brinkley was a standout basketball and baseball player in high school. Pity the player trying to post up Brinkley in the paint or the shortstop trying to turn a double play with Brinkley bearing down with spikes up to break up a double play.

Brinkley's new Vikings teammates have been finding out what it's like to be met in a hole by "Baby Elephant," a nickname that coaches were throwing his way in the early days of camp. Brinkley admitted he needed to pull a little powder out of his blasting tackles during training camp. Call it a discount among teammates.

"(The coaches) really didn't talk to me, but it was more like taking care of your teammates. We can go out on Sunday and hit everybody else out there," Brinkley said. "The whole goal is to take care of your teammates, make it through camp and get out of healthy, as many teammates as you can get out of camp, and try to go out and win on Sundays and win a couple of games."

He won't need to hold back as much during his preseason pro debut against the Colts. He wants to maintain his reputation as a hard hitter.

"I really do want to uphold it, but when it comes to my teammates, I love each and every one of my teammates and I want to take care of them," he said.

One of the teammates he won't be hitting is fellow middle linebacker E.J. Henderson. Brinkley's contact with him is strictly oral communication, not physical confrontation, and the rookie is attempting to imitate the ever-improving veteran.

"Just working on the little things, trying to imitate what he does being an eight-year pro. A player like that, being a Pro Bowl-caliber player, is just underrated."

"You're really not going to be able to apply all of it at one time, but as much as you can grasp, that's what I take and use out on the field. It's never been a problem for me to go to him and ask him for advice because he tells me all the time to come to him if I need help with anything."

So far, Brinkley has been working strictly behind Henderson, but he said that knowing the middle linebacker position means knowing all three of the linebacker spots because it is the "quarterback of the defense."

He was also a leader at South Carolina, where he earned second-team All-SEC honors as a senior and ranked third on the team in tackles. In 2006, he led the Gamecocks and all SEC linebackers with 127 tackles. He ended his career with an 11-tackle game against Iowa, capping a career in which he started all 30 games he played.

But the key for Brinkley pro's success might be his range, an aspect of his game that came into question when his 2007 season ended after only four game because of a knee injury.

"He is a better athlete than I thought he would be at 260 pounds. He moves around extremely well," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "He has great awareness and instincts …

"Originally when we were looking at him on tape, as a collegiate player, we were concerned whether or not he would be able to run. We want our linebackers to be able to run. He has surpassed all of our expectations at this point. He runs extremely well and we think he is going to be a big factor on our special teams in this 2009 season."

With Henderson having a stranglehold on the starting position on defense, special teams will have to be Brinkley's calling card early.

"I feel like it really is going to have to be my bread and butter this year, but I'm 100 percent in. If I'm here, I'm going to be here (all the way)," Brinkley said of special teams. "It's all (part of) becoming a football player. I think if you're a football player, no matter which position, you should be able to do it with no regrets."

That process starts tonight and Brinkley should get a chance to make a big impact throughout the second half.

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