When Minnesota Vikings linebacker EJ Henderson was lost for the season due to injury in 2008, the Vikings re-acquired Napoleon Harris, who was sent to the Vikings by the Oakland Raiders with a first-round pick for WR Randy Moss in 2005.
This season, after Henderson suffered a season-ending injury in the Sunday Night game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Vikings have named rookie Jasper Brinkley the starting middle linebacker.
Brinkley, a fifth round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, played his college ball along with his twin brother, Casper, at the University of South Carolina. Casper now plays for the Carolina Panthers, who the Vikings play on Dec. 20.
He started 29 of his 30 games as a Gamecock, racking up 193 tackles (20 for lost yardage), 7.5 sacks, and three interceptions.
As a senior, Brinkley was named to the All-SEC second team.
Scouting reports on Brinkley suggest he struggles in coverage, but could find his niche in short yardage defensive formations.
Brinkley will not play as much as Henderson, who was the defensive signal caller. In nickel situations, Ben Leber will stay on the field with Chad Greenway while Brinkley is replaced by a defensive back. This is similar to what the Vikings did last season after losing Henderson.
Brinkley is the last of five Vikings 2009 draft picks who has not seen significant playing time this season. WR Percy Harvin and OL Phil Loadholt have started the entire season, while CB Asher Allen and S Jamarca Sanford have filled in due to injury-plauged secondary.
Brinkley has been a standout on special teams, along with Sanford.
Some argue that Brinkley's inexperience at the linebacker position will ultimately be the un-doing of the Vikings defense. Some fans argue that the Vikings should sign a veteran free agent, like Derrick Brooks.
They say a veteran linebacker is needed to run the defense of a 10-2 football team.
But the Vikings, who traded up to draft Brinkley, believe that they have their man.
The Vikings drafted Brinkley in case an emergency arose. It is time for him to show that they made the right choice.
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