by Chris Warner
If you try to envision a middle linebacker suited for the Patriots’ 3-4 defensive scheme, you might think of Jasper Brinkley. At 6-foot-2, 252 pounds, Brinkley has the size. Over the past two seasons, he’s proven he has the tenacity.
Having compiled 107 tackles in 2006, Brinkley considered leaving school to enter the NFL draft but returned to the University of South Carolina for his senior year. Four games in, he suffered a devastating knee injury and missed the rest of the 2007 season.
Brinkley came back to play in 2008 to tally 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception. He talked to PD about getting back to doing what he likes best: banging helmets on the football field.
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your junior year, the success you had there, and your decision to stay at SC for another year.
My junior year, coming in my first year out of (Georgia Military) junior college, was a big challenge for me because of the simple fact that I had to be able to come in and be able to contribute to the team right away. Coaches expect players coming out of junior college to be able to step on the field right away. That was one of the things that made me come to South Carolina, because they said there was great opportunities to come in and try to help the team win, at least to get the top ranking in the SEC. In South Carolina, that hadn’t been done in a long time, being able to compete with those top dogs…The thing that made me come back in 2007 was just how loyal the fans (were). I feel like we have the top fans in the country at the University of South Carolina. They’re behind the players – no matter what we do, they’re always behind us, through the ups and the downs. That goes a long way with players, such as alumni and things of that nature. I will always be a part of South Carolina and definitely (will) come back and show my face around campus.
So in terms of dealing with the injury, you don’t have any regrets?
Oh, no. No regrets. The only regret I have, you know, I wish I’d never (gotten hurt) because it was kind of hard getting back to where I am now. But things happen for a reason in life, and it’s not where you start, it’s how you end. I think that was a big challenge. You’re going to have roadblocks in life.
In terms of where you are now, how confident are you in your knee?
Oh, I’m very confident. I could tell towards the second half of the season how confident I was. The first half stats and things of that nature weren’t really that impressive, but towards the end of the season I started to rebound and get the stats back to where they were back in 2007.
So, if someone looks at your statistics overall, they’re way down from the previous playing year, but you feel that if you look at each individual game, there’s a real increase?
Oh, yeah. There definitely is. Definitely. (Note: Brinkley compiled 11 total tackles vs. Iowa in the Outback Bowl.)
Now, where do you think you fit in an NFL defense?
I think I can play the middle: the inside ‘backer in a 3-4 is what a lot of people have been telling me; I feel pretty confident about that, and definitely the middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. But the ultimate goal is getting a team to give me a shot to play that. I feel like I won’t let them down because I’m going to go in and work my tail off. I’m a hard worker, that’s just one of the things I pride myself on.
Do you see any weakness in your game?
I think everybody has a weakness in their game, but mine would have to be zone coverage, because I tend to drift sometimes…In the zone that we played, we didn’t play match-up zone, we played a spot zone, and you can easily be looked off in it…The quarterback can look you off from time to time, make you get out of your zone.
Have you been talking with NFL teams?
I talked with the coach from Kansas City this morning, the linebacker coach.
How do you think your workouts have gone?
I think I did pretty good at the combine. All they really thought (about), of course, was am I at 100 percent? I think I really did help myself there. You know, everything is just a steppingstone. (You) keep stacking bricks on top of each other. I’ve been through all my issues at the combine, and I just want to keep continuing, keep stacking…I’m ready to help a team win, if they give me the opportunity.
Do you think you could move to outside, or maybe play a little defensive end?
Oh, I definitely can. Whatever a team needs me to do, I feel I can do the job and be really productive at it.
Are you down to about 252 (pounds) now?
And was that to help you increase your speed?
No, it was just – after the injury, I was in a wheelchair for eight weeks. Once I got out of the wheelchair, I had to jump right into spring football practice. I was always behind on getting my weight down, because we had a new defensive coordinator come in, and I was trying to run the scheme. You know, I really couldn’t find time to focus more on my nutrition and get my weight back down. I carried it fairly decent, but I felt like if I could have been 250, somewhere in that area, I could have been faster and quicker. Right now, I’m impressed – (now that) I got the weight off – with how I feel, and I feel like it’s going to help me a lot. I’m going to keep it here, keep my weight here.
Who were some of the guys you played who you really had a tough time against in the SEC?
(Florida WR) Percy Harvin. (Florida QB) Tim Tebow. (Georgia RB) Knowshon Moreno. (LSU RB) Charles Scott. (LSU FB) Quinn Johnson. That’s about it.
Did you have to take Quinn Johnson on one-on-one?
Oh, yeah, I definitely did.
Was that a lot of fun?
Oh, yeah. It definitely was, because I know he’s a bruiser just like I am. Every play was a challenge to see who was going to gain contact, who was going to win as far as the most force when we hit. Whoever gets the head start, that’s who’s always going to win that battle.
Are there any NFL teams or NFL players that you watch and admire?
I really admire Ray Lewis, the Ravens. Tough guy. Physical, real physical. Team leader, you know, high-character guy.
Any particular team that you’d like to go to, or is that just too far in the future right now?
I don’t have any particular team. The plan for me, and the ultimate goal for me, is just to have the opportunity to continue playing football, something which I love to do.
Now your (twin) brother (Casper) graduated a year ahead of you because of the redshirt, right?
Has he been able to give you any advice in terms of how to deal with this part of the process?
Oh, yeah, he definitely has. He told me, you know, go in there with an open mind. Don’t be nervous, don’t be scared, because every day is a work day. No time to relax. No time to go out. Get your head in your playbook. Learn everything you can learn.
That sounds good. Jasper, good luck this spring.
Okay. I appreciate it.