By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - After taking a one-year hiatus with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013, middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley has returned to the Vikings and finds himself in the midst of one of the most contentious position battles on Minnesota's roster.
Preparing to enter his sixth season as a pro, Brinkley has trimmed up to 248 pounds and is ready to prove to the new regime that he has the athletic ability required to fit into the new aggressive defensive scheme.
Having started 15 games at middle linebacker for Minnesota in 2012, Brinkley was released and signed on with the Cardinals where he started 3 games in the middle, appearing in 15 games on the season. Back with the Vikings once again, he jumps right into the middle of a position battle that early on in the off-season program, can only be considered completely up in the air.
After the off-season departure of last year's starter in the middle, Erin Henderson, three players have risen to the top of the pack to compete for the middle spot. Brinkley is currently joined by third year player Audi Cole and second-year player Mike Mauti as the trio will compete for the starting role as quarterback of the defense.
"Mike and Audi, those guys are great man," Brinkley said during a radio interview with KFAN's Paul Allen. "It's a brotherhood here and the best man is going to get the job. Even though Mike has been through three ACLs, Mike's still explosive man. The nature of the National Football League, you get a couple of injuries and people try to push us to the side."
Each of the players vying for the starting job bring something different to the table. Brinkley, known primarily as a run stopping linebacker, brings the experience. Audie Cole brings in the athleticism. And Mike Mauti will bring to the table maybe the biggest amount of raw talent at the position, but as mentioned above, he still has some big questions surrounding his durability and health.
While each is uniquely equipped for the task at hand, the unknown variable for all three is newly appointed head coach Mike Zimmer and his son, linebackers coach Adam Zimmer.
While the blueprint for the Zimmer defensive scheme can be seen in part by looking at Cincinnati Bengals teams over the past few years, coach is reportedly looking to employ a new defense here in Minnesota that will be a slight change from that with the Bengals last year and a big change from that of the Vikings in 2013. With the adjustment to new coaches, comes a learning curve where the player learn the coaches and the coaches discover the best ways to push the players.
"Coach is good," Brinkley said of his early impressions of Mike Zimmer. "He challenges all of us as a team. Definitely challenges defensively. Anytime you have a coach like coach Zimmer, he's going to challenge you push you to the limit and he's not going to sugar coach anything."
The one thing Brinkley is sure of already, Zimmer brings a different style than the last defensive minded coach Minnesota had.
"Coach [Leslie] Frazier was more of a laid back type of coach. Coach Zimmer is more of an in your face coach."
There's no doubt that early impressions play into the final analysis but the real competition is preparing to heat up as the Vikings as mandatory mini camp will open on June 17th leading up to the start of Training Camp at the end of July.
Listen to the full interview with Paul Allen and Vikings' MLB Jasper Brinkley in the player above...
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings updates and breaking Vikings news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN