Minnesota Vikings: A Healthy Jasper Brinkley a Big Plus for Vikes Defense

Andrew GardaFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 22:  Jasper Brinkley #54 of the Minnesota Vikings reacts after pressuring Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49er during an NFL pre-season game at Candlestick Park on August 22, 2010 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Inside linebacker Jasper Brinkley declared himself healthy and ready for training camp last Friday.

Minnesota Vikings fans should be relieved that, after missing 2011 with hip surgery, he's back in the saddle.

Since deciding to pass on re-signing EJ Henderson, the Vikings have found themselves in need of someone to jam up the middle—they hope that will be Brinkley.

Last season, the Vikings had both Hendersons—EJ and Erin—at middle linebacker, with EJ getting the bulk of the work. They've now let EJ walk and moved Erin out to the weak side.

Clearly they believe in Brinkley, despite his injury and the recent "groin" injury he had. If they didn't, they would have shored the middle up more thoroughly either through the draft or in free agency, although they were clearly happy to avoid spending a ton that way.

They signed former Saint and Dolphin Marvin Mitchell, a decent player but a more useful special-teams player than he is a starting middle linebacker. He's been productive, but he's not going to take over and perform all that well if Brinkley isn't there.

I love Audie Cole. I think, if you've read my Vikings stuff, you know this. That said, he's raw and a year or so away (at least) from contributing in a major way unless it's on special teams.

Both could step in and perform, but it would be a step back. They work better as substitutes and single-down players right now.

Of course the team could move Erin Henderson back or re-sign EJ Henderson.

Moving Erin Henderson would leave the outside linebackers a bit thin, while signing his brother would cost money they don't want to spend and bring back a player who is probably about done. If EJ Henderson had a lot more to bring, he'd be on a team somewhere.

So it's not as if the Vikings are crazy on letting him sit.

Brinkley is a tough, powerful player who can shore up the middle very ably and clean up after Kevin Williams. He just needs to stay healthy—if he can do that, the Vikings front seven continues to look very good for 2012.