There are several hurdles to overcome when a team is forced to replace a starter, and the task becomes a little more difficult when the replacement is a 1st-time starter.
Such was the case for the Vikings on Sunday against Cincinnati. With middle LB E.J. Henderson lost for the season due to a broken leg, the Vikings turned to 5th round pick Jasper Brinkley to fill the role in the middle.
Adding another level of difficulty to the Vikings defensive challenge was the fact that the Bengals employ an unusual offensive mechanism that adds an extra responsibility to the middle LB’s job. On several occasions Sunday, the Bengals inserted into the lineup an extra offensive tackle, which created an unbalanced offensive formation in the run-heavy offensive attack.
As if replacing the heart and soul of the defense wasn’t hard enough already, Brinkley now had to deal with matching his teammates up against an odd formation while also positioning himself to replace the production Henderson provided on a weekly basis.
But when the dust settled and the clock said 00:00, the Vikings were on the right end of a 30-10 outcome. Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said on Monday that Brinkley did a good job of handling the “mental gymnastics” and that the rookie LB also provided a physical presence on defense.
“He did a great job I thought in both against a very difficult group to play against just because of all the extra linemen that they had in the game,” Childress added. “You have to do some different things when people are unbalanced. First of all, it’s coming out of the huddle at you. It’s visual recognition and identification. They’re always attempting to deceive when they do that, and it has to happen very quickly where you’re setting the defense, getting people moved if they didn’t hear you, flipping people over, linebackers flipping sides, and then playing the game.”
Brinkley played primarily in the Vikings base package – in the 4-3 defensive alignment on most 1st and 2nd downs. He registered 3 tackles and contributed significantly to a defensive effort that held the Bengals to just 210 net yards.
“It’s a tough situation to come into,” said LB Ben Leber after the game. “Obviously, he was probably anxious and nervous. I thought he performed pretty well coming in and making the calls in base (defense), and going downhill and making some hits.”
Tags: Ben Leber, Jasper Brinkley
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