Some Vikings ready to get back in action
MINNEAPOLIS — As Jasper Brinkley packed up his locker to head into the offseason, the Vikings' middle linebacker was already thinking about getting back to work.
"I might take a couple days off and then get back to the grind," he said.
Thrust into the starting role after E.J. Henderson suffered a horrific leg injury, Brinkley got valuable on-the-job training as a rookie and likely will enter training camp as the starter again. Henderson is able to put weight on his left leg now, but his football future remains uncertain.
While Henderson recovers, Brinkley said he will prepare as if he will be the starting middle linebacker next season. He might not be the only 2009 rookie who lands a starting gig on defense next season.
Jamarca Sanford started one game at strong safety this season and saw his playing time increase in the final few games as he shared snaps with Tyrell Johnson, who lacked consistency this season.
Cornerback Asher Allen also might take on a more prominent role in training camp depending on how quickly Cedric Griffin returns to form after suffering a torn ACL covering a kickoff in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.
Coach Brad Childress said the timetable for that injury is typically six to nine months, so Allen could compete for a starting job if Griffin's recovery falls on the high end or he experiences complications.
All three players started at least one game as rookies and gained valuable experience, which they believe should pay dividends when they return for their second season.
"It just helps you build for the future," Sanford said. "You can evaluate yourself and grade yourself this offseason, what you need to work on, your weaknesses. To be able to play a lot as a rookie is a great feeling."
Brinkley was pressed into a prominent role after Henderson suffered a broken femur against the Arizona Cardinals. Brinkley looked natural as a run stopper and was capable of making the necessary pre-snap checks and calls. But he struggled at times in pass coverage, which was not unexpected. He said that area is his primary focus this offseason.
Hoping to increase his quickness and flexibility, Brinkley will train at a facility in Miami. He plans to do different things to improve his core strength, including Pilates. Brinkley is a physical thumper at 252 pounds, but he said he needs to be better in space when he's in coverage.
"I definitely have that experience and know what to expect," he said. "I just have to move on this offseason and take care of myself and do the things necessary to take my game up another level."
For Sanford, that means improving his ability to make a break when the ball is in the air. The seventh-round pick loves to hit and seems more comfortable the closer he is to the line of scrimmage.
"I've gotten a lot better with my hands," he said. "Just working on playing deep and my breaks on the ball. Playing around the box, that's my strength; that's what I'm used to. I need to work on my hips and getting out of my breaks and being quick to the ball. I showed flashes of it, but there's always room to get better."
Sanford's competition with Johnson in offseason workouts and training camp should be an interesting position battle.
"I'm going to come in just like I did last year and be humble and hungry," Sanford said. "I'll be ready to compete for whatever. That's my mindset. You never want to set yourself back. You always strive to be the best."