Little more than one year passed in the time Jasper Brinkley was gone from the Minnesota Vikings. He returned for the team’s offseason workouts last week and the changes were abundant.
Brinkley would see familiar faces as he walked the halls at Winter Park, such as general manager Rick Spielman, who re-signed him after one year in Arizona. There are still plenty of familiar teammates.
But a peek into coaches’ offices was met with different faces. Gone are the coaches Brinkley grew with in the NFL, replaced by head coach Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator George Edwards and Mike’s son, Adam, serving as the linebackers coach.
"The NFL is a revolving door," Brinkley said. "When I came back this year, different guys were here. I was here with Jared [Allen] and Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, and all of those guys are not here at this time. It’s different guys here, but the thing right now is that everybody is buying into the program, buying into the system and we’re coming together as a team and being as one unit."
Despite the significant changes – including a new defensive scheme, workout program and defensive leaders – Brinkley felt comfortable coming back to the Vikings, the team who made a fifth-round draft pick out of South Carolina in 2009 and where he spent his first four NFL seasons.
"Yeah, it made sense because I already knew the land here," Brinkley said. "I know a lot of people here. It feels like home for me again. Knowing the type of coaching that Coach Zimmer, how he plays the middle linebackers, it’s a great fit for me."
Brinkley started 15 games in 2012 for Minnesota at middle linebacker before hitting free agency last year. The Vikings re-signed Erin Henderson and Brinkley made the decision to sign a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals.
But Brinkley was released after one season, playing in 15 games and starting three while Daryl Washington served a four-game suspension. Henderson struggled in his move to the middle where he replaced Brinkley and was also released after off-field issues.
The business of the NFL in full view for Brinkley didn’t distract Brinkley, who jumped at the chance to return to Minnesota.
"It’s business," Brinkley said. "Once you look at it as something different, that’s when you’re going to get beside yourself. You just have to look at it as a business."
The coaches and scheme have changed, but Brinkley sees a shot at being a contributor again for the Vikings. Brinkley likely will compete for the starting middle linebacker spot along with Audie Cole, who was poised to end last year as the starter before he was hurt, and Michael Mauti.
"It’s all about proving yourself," Brinkley said. "I don’t think one guy is going to be penciled in right now. It’s a new coaching staff. Everybody has to prove themselves."
Brinkley feels the new defense fits his skill-set, as well.
"Before I left, it was predominantly Cover 2," Brinkley said. "Now it’s more than Cover 2, it’s a multiple defense. The major thing about it is that the middle linebacker gets to be more involved in the plays in the box . . . Just being able to come downhill and be physical. (Zimmer has) stressed that a lot, being physical and being explosive. So that’s one of the major things he puts an emphasis on."
Brinkley felt so good about the new coaching staff and being back in Minnesota, he even pitched his former college roommate on joining the Vikings. Brinkley played at South Carolina with cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who signed with Minnesota as a free agent to shore up the cornerback position.
"When he told me he was taking a visit, I was just coming off of mine," Brinkley said. "I told him what my idea was about coming back here and I told him that this felt like home for me and that he would like. Just knowing the history of Coach Zimmer, a defensive-minded coach, he knows what he brings to the table and it would be a great fit for him."