As the team awaits word on when E.J. Henderson will reclaim his starting job – that isn't an if, it's a when – Brinkley said this time around in training camp is a 180 degree change from his rookie camp.
"It's so different for me," Brinkley said. "I'm viewing things from a whole different lens this time around. I definitely have some experience and I've learned the playbook. I've got the opportunity to play fast this year. Last year, I was trying to make the team and be a contributor. This year, I'm much more relaxed and know I belong and can help this team."
Brinkley has been handling most of the first-team snaps with the defense, but, slowly but surely, he is seeing his role diminish somewhat. Yesterday, Henderson took part in 16 snaps. Today it was 20. More are expected tomorrow. While his playing time may get cut into, Brinkley understands what Henderson means to the Vikings defense will be fine with however Henderson's return to action shakes out.
"However the coaches want to play it, I'm all for it," Brinkley said. "I'm a team player. He's a great player and has been in this system for seven or eight years. He's the heart and soul of the defense. What he has done just to get back to where he is right now, you know a lot about what kind of player he is."
Although they are competing for the same position, there is no competition between Henderson and Brinkley. Henderson has served as a mentor to Brinkley both before and after the injury and the veteran likes what he sees in the youngster.
"He's a good kid, a smart kid and very mature for his age," Henderson said. "You saw that last year when he had a chance to come in as a rookie. I've tried to take him under my wing and teach him whatever I know. I try to give to him and I think he's started to eat a lot of that and he's coming around. I think he's going to be a starter in this league some day."
The respect between the two is clearly mutual. While some veterans could be threatened by a young player being groomed as an eventual replacement, Brinkley said his relationship with Henderson has been fantastic and that he has learned a lot about the NFL and life from his mentor and teammate.
"He's really the reason why I'm where I'm at in this system," Brinkley said. "He's a team-motivated guy and a selfless player. I was lucky to have someone like him to help me in film studies and show me what I need to do better to succeed as a player in the NFL."
While Brinkley's improvement has been pronounced in the year he has been a Viking, if everything goes as planned, that role will be scaled back considerably when Henderson is deemed healthy enough to return. When that happens, Brinkley said he is prepared for whatever role he will play, regardless of how large or small that might be.
"I don't know what my role is going to be, " he said. "The coaches know that I'm a team-first player. Until E.J. is ready, I'm going through training camp preparing like I will be the starter. If that changes, we'll take that as it comes. I'll accept anything they tell me because my goal is to do whatever I can to make this team better, whether it's starting, backing up E.J. or playing special teams. I'll do whatever I'm asked to do to help the team."
FRIDAY AFTERNOON PRACTICE NOTES