Rick Spielman had a chance to sign one of the many proven middle linebackers that hit the open market back in March.
Instead, the team has decided to move forward with Jasper Brinkley, a fifth round selection in 2009, to take over the position that E.J. Henderson has held for so long. Brinkley filled in for Henderson quite well during his rookie season, but last year he missed every game due to a hip injury that is apparently still lingering.
“I know what we saw when he came in as a rookie and when he came in and filled in for E.J. and the potential we saw there,” Spielman recently told 1500 ESPN. “He’s a big banger, physical inside middle linebacker that probably doesn’t get enough credit for his athletic skill set as well.”
Spielman can’t help but admit that Brinkley’s health concerns could be a problem, however.
“But again, the durability is a question right now,” continued Spielman, “just because he hasn’t played in a year and hasn’t played much at all hardly through this offseason.”
The Vikings are keeping Brinkley in Minnesota between now and training camp and Spielman says the goal is to make sure he is 100% ready to go by the time training camp rolls around. Rookie Audie Cole, practice squad player Tyrone MCKenzie and free agent pickup Marvin Mitchell make up the depth chart behind Brinkley and have been seeing increased reps during his absence.
“There’s no question Jasper’s slated in there, but there is some competition going on,” Spielman said of the starting position. “Jasper has to show that he can be on the field, and if not, like I said, we’ll monitor where our young guys are, where some of our backups are and can they do it, and if not, we’ll definitely have to explore the market outside.”
“It’s a big year for him as well, I know, because he’s going into the last year of his contract,” noted Spielman. “So, he wants — he needs to get on the field.”
I find the timing of Spielman expressing his concerns kind of puzzling. When free agency opened up he watched guys like Curtis Lofton, Stephen Tulloch, David Hawthorne, and Dan Connor sign with other teams despite their proven talent and fairly ideal age.
If Brinkley doesn’t pan out because of injuries, and the depth behind him proves to be inadequate, then the decision to make middle linebacker a non-priority could be one that comes back and bites Spielman in the ass.