During the 2014 offseason, the Minnesota Vikings re-acquired linebacker Jasper Brinkley following his release from the Arizona Cardinals. Brinkley will begin his second stint with the Vikings much like he did his first – competing for the starting middle linebacker position.
Following an injury to then-starting middle linebacker E.J. Henderson in 2009, Brinkley received his first opportunity to be a starter at the NFL level. Brinkley, who was in his rookie season out of South Carolina at the time, performed adequately, helping the Vikings reach the NFC Championship that season. Brinkley would relinquish his starting role back to Henderson for the 2010 season and reassume the role in 2012 following an injury-ridden 2011 season.
After a lackluster 2013 season with the Cardinals in which he only recorded 27 total tackles, Brinkley will attempt to get himself back on track with the team that drafted him in the fifth round back in 2009. However, a lot has changed since Brinkley last played for the Vikings, which makes his previous familiarity with the Vikings’ defense almost irrelevant.
Despite having the most experience playing middle linebacker, Brinkley will not simply be handed the starting role. He will compete with Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Chad Greenway, who has been taking snaps at middle linebacker even though he has played outside linebacker for the Vikings his entire career.
If the NFL season were to begin today, Brinkley would likely open the year as the starter, given that he has received the majority of the first-team snaps at middle linebacker for the Vikings so far this summer. However, depending on how Mike Zimmer decides to use Greenway, Brinkley may have to settle for a rotational role.
While it still remains to be seen what type of impact he will have on the field this season, Brinkley has already impacted the Vikings off the field. Brinkley played an important role in recruiting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who was his college roommate at South Carolina, to sign with the Vikings during free agency.
Expect Brinkley to be on the field often for the Vikings this season, regardless of whether or not he is named the starting middle linebacker out of training camp.