Found May 14, 2012 on
Fox Sports North:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. When the Minnesota Vikings convened for the start of their offseason workouts recently at Winter Park, linebacker Jasper Brinkley was right there with the majority of his teammates, doing each drill.
A football player going through workouts might not be big news, but for Brinkley it's been a long-awaited return to the Vikings. There is no sign of a limp after hip surgery last season. He said he has no limitations and his confidence is in midseason form as well.
"I'm back totally, 100 percent," Brinkley said. "Ready to go. Any drill that coach may think of, I can do it. I can do it to the best ability of anybody. If (Vikings linebacker) Chad(Greenway)can do it, I can do it."
That's just what Minnesota is hoping for with Brinkley in line for a starting spot as the middle linebacker, replacing E.J. Henderson who hasn't been re-signed after entering free agency in March. Coach Leslie Frazier has noted the lack of depth at linebacker and if Brinkley could fill the starting role ably, and stay healthy, it would make one of the team's weaknesses look a little better.
Brinkley, 26, is entering the offseason workouts with a chance at a starting spot for the second straight season. Brinkley was expected to compete with Erin Henderson in training camp last season for the starting weakside linebacker spot. Brinkley then had surgery, missed the entire season and Henderson developed into a capable starting linebacker.
Now Brinkley is trying to replace Henderson's brother.
"It definitely feels good knowing I have that opportunity," Brinkley said. "Nothing is given to you in this league. You have to go out each and every day and work for it. I don't walk around with the mindset that I have a starting role yet. I know I have to go out and earn it. That's each and every year. You know, you're drafting guys every year. Who knows, a free agent could come in and beat a starter out. So, definitely got to keep putting in work."
Brinkley was once one of those drafted players looking to replace a starter. A fifth-round pick in 2009 out of South Carolina, Brinkley started the final four games of his rookie season and two playoff games after E.J. Henderson fractured his femur. Brinkley was setting himself up as the heir apparent to Henderson. He was a special teams' standout in 2010 with Henderson returning to health.
Another starting opportunity arose when Ben Leber hit free agency and didn't return last season. Then Brinkley felt tightness in his hip before the third preseason game. He underwent an MRI and had surgery in August to repair the labrum in his hip. Brinkley wasn't sure when the injury occurred and he still wonders.
"It's kind of hard to tell because with that injury it could be a year ago," Brinkley said. "It could have been a year ago that it happened and you just didn't have any symptoms. Definitely leaves questions in my mind. Every day I still try to think, when did I possibly have hurt it?"
Brinkley felt he was ready to return by the end of last season, but had been placed on the season-ending injured reserve earlier in the season. But he's been able to attack this offseason healthy and ready to fight for another starting spot.
His teammates have noticed the work Brinkley's put in and are excited to see how he will adapt as a full-time starter for the first time in his career.
"He's an extremely gifted athlete," Greenway said. "For 255 (pounds) or whatever he's weighing these days, he can run, he can move. We think a lot of him in our room and we hope he takes full advantage of the opportunity that most likely is going to be given."
The 6-foot-1 Brinkley, listed at 252 pounds, is a thumper who can be a presence in the run defense. The biggest question is how he will be able to drop in coverage in the Vikings' Cover-2 system. The coaches believe he will handle the assignment.
Brinkley stayed around the team facility most of last season and tried to keep himself in the system mentally.
"Knowledge wise he's improved," Frazier said. "The tough part for us is how much time we had with him a year ago. That's the curveball. We only had maybe about a week and then he was gone. We're hoping that he has evolved athletically and think he has. But he's been in rehab for the longest now he's healthy and doing everything. But we've got our fingers crossed that he's going to be able to get it done."
There isn't much behind Brinkley. Larry Dean returns, but he's thought of as more of a special teams player. Marvin Mitchell was added in free agency. He's a five-year veteran, but has only started two games in his career. Audie Cole was a seventh-round draft pick last month.
General manager Rick Spielman has said the team will continue to look at free agents and Minnesota worked out Rocky McIntosh last week.
Meanwhile, Brinkley works out and prepares for a likely starting spot in the middle of the defense.
"The biggest challenge for me, I think, is just to stay healthy," Brinkley said. "I think that's the biggest challenge for anybody playing in the National Football League because of the toll it takes on your body. Just staying healthy and being ready to play all the games in the year, that's always big."
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