Brinkley critiques his play, pinpoints goals

Jasper Brinkley could be starting at the beginning of the year, but he's pretty sure he'll be better than he was last year when he was a raw rookie filling in for an injured E.J. Henderson. Brinkley has looked at his 2009 tape and pinpointed the things he needs to improve.

Linebacker Jasper Brinkley isn't surprised by criticism. As a rookie fill-in for an injured E.J. Henderson last year, Brinkley heard the talk that he was a liability in coverage.

He also saw some things on tape and says he is his toughest critic as he tries to improve. In fact, after watching every snap he played last year, he's already seen progress from his first action to his last.

"The thing I was able to pull away from it was just getting a whole lot more comfortable with the defense," he said. "I was just able to go in and critique myself a whole lot and go in and find some things that I could do in different situations. Everything was (geared) to just get better. You always want to ascend; you don't want to be on the decline. That's one thing I talked to my coaches about – finding the things that needed to be worked on. Be nit-picky with yourself."

When it comes to his overall game, Brinkley found a common factor in the early video cut-ups. In a word: hesitation. "A lot of hesitation," he said.

But, when studying his tape at the end of the season, after he had some time to adjust to his starting role at middle linebacker in the base defense, Brinkley said that hesitation "definitely wasn't" an isuse.

"I could tell at the end of the year I was fluid out there and I was able to diagnose a lot of things and able to play faster," he said.

But Brinkley is aware of his reputation. He came into the league known as a "thumper" – someone who likes to lay the big hit on the ball carrier. But packing a big punch can leave a linebacker exposed in other areas.

For Brinkley, his Achilles heel in his rookie season was pass coverage. Before his fractured femur, Henderson was a nickel linebacker along with Chad Greenway. When Brinkley had to be inserted as a starter, the Vikings altered that strategy and Ben Leber stayed in the game when the Vikings ran a nickel defense. Brinkley was the linebacker that was pulled for a fifth defensive back.

"It's still something I need to concentrate on," Brinkley said about his pass coverage at the end of minicamp. "I got a whole lot better on it. I knew they were going to be hard on me, but you're going to have criticism. I'm my worst critic. (I) just try to build a foundation and build off of that."

Brinkley said speed wasn't necessarily an issue with his coverage – although he did run a 4.7 at the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine – but he learned he needed to match the tempo of the player he is covering.

"It depends on the personnel you're playing against," he said. "Vernon Davis is a whole lot different from Jason Witten. It's all about your tempo. You've got to be able to tempo it out with them, especially playing that Cover-2. It's all about being fluid. Sometimes being fluid and being smart and knowing what the route combinations are, that can make up for some of the speed.

"It's all about flipping your hips off the quarterback's eyes and being able to break down on shakedowns sometimes, be able to read the route combination and knowing what route is coming by different splits."

He would like to be a little quicker this season, but figured he'll probably check in around his 255 playing weight from last year. He does look a little leaner, but the main thing for him right now is continuing to reduce the hesitation factor.

He will maintain his critical eye as he prepares for the possibility of starting if Henderson isn't ready.

"I definitely feel like I came a long ways. Last year was a whole lot of learning for me. I call it teach tape," he said. "I definitely got in here this offseason and critiqued myself real hard."

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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