Jasper Brinkley, LB #54
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 252
Age: 27
Hometown: Thomson, GA
College: South Carolina
Experience: 3 years

The Minnesota Vikings have given third year linebacker Jasper Brinkley the starting spot in the middle. He takes over for former Pro Bowler E.J. Henderson, who remains a free agent.

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The former South Carolina Gamecock has not played a regular season game since January 2, 2011, and has not made a regular season tackle since December 20, 2010. He suffered a season-ending hip injury in the second preseason game of 2011.

His return from the injury began slowly, with one tackle at the San Francisco 49ers on August 10. Brinkley had his best preseason game against the San Diego Chargers on August 24 (the team’s third preseason game), with four tackles and two sacks. He was held out of the final preseason game against the Houston Texans on August 30.

In June, Tom Pelissero of ESPN1500.com tweeted that Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman expressed concern about the durability of Brinkley. The Vikings signed veteran reserve Marvin Mitchell to provide depth and insurance, but he was not going to overtake Brinkley for the starting spot. However, according to depth chart on the Vikings’ official website, Mitchell is penciled in as the second team weakside linebacker. The reserve middle linebackers are Tyrone McKenzie and Audie Cole.

When he lines up as the starting middle linebacker on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Mall of America Field, it will not be the first time Brinkley has received a starting assignment. He started the last four games in 2009 after Henderson broke his leg in week 13 at the Arizona Cardinals. Brinkley provided the Vikings’ faithful with hope for his future by recording 21 of 48 career tackles in those four games, including a seven-tackle effort at the Carolina Panthers in week 15.

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Before he was selected by the Vikings in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL Draft, the South Carolina alum earned All-SEC honors as a senior, including an 11-tackle effort against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl. He entered his junior season in 2007 on the preseason All-SEC teams and was on several award watch lists, but that season ended after four games when Brinkley suffered a knee injury. He played with his twin brother Casper, who spent time on the Panthers’ practice squad in 2008, and former Viking Sidney Rice at South Carolina. Brinkley went on to earn a degree in African-American studies from USC during the 2011 offseason.

The scouting report on Jasper is that he is a big, sure-tackling, run-stuffing inside linebacker. He has the size to take on blockers in the hole and make plays in the backfield. He needs to prove he has enough athleticism to maneuver traffic to make plays after the hip injury. Brinkley is also a liability in pass coverage and will not see the field in nickel and dime situations.

Eventually, Brinkley would like to get into high school coaching at the completion of his NFL career.

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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.