Brinkley, Munnerlyn reunite with a 'very different' coaching staff
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - After linebacker Jasper Brinkley took his initial visit to return to Minnesota this offseason, his former college roommate at South Carolina was getting ready to take his own trip to Winter Park.
Brinkley, who played in Minnesota from 2009-2012, reunited with cornerback Captain Munnerlyn as two of the Vikings' free agent signings this offseason.
"I told [Munnerlyn] what my idea was about coming back here and I told him that this felt like home for me and that he would like it," Brinkley said. "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."
The pair immediately addressed two key positions of need in Minnesota at linebacker and cornerback in an effort to turn around one of the NFL's worst defenses from a year ago. Though the previous regime was led by a defensive-minded head coach in Leslie Frazier, both Brinkley and Munnerlyn see potential -- and differences -- in another defensive-minded coach with Mike Zimmer.
Frazier and former defensive coordinator Alan Williams played a zone-heavy scheme in defending the pass that allowed a league-high 37 touchdown passes last season. In an effort to fix that, the Vikings added secondary pieces in Munnerlyn, Derek Cox and Kurt Coleman while beginning to implement a different scheme, one that Brinkley says is more complex.
"Before I left [in 2012], it was predominantly Cover Two. Now it's more than Cover Two," Brinkley said. "It's multiple defenses. The major thing about it is that the middle linebacker gets to be more involved in the plays in the box.
"The coaching staff is very different from the coaching staff that was here when I was here. Coach Zimmer is more of an up-front kind of guy, and that's great for a coach to be that type of way. And he's a defensive guy, so it plays into my size."
Munnerlyn, who has seven career interceptions returned for five touchdowns, sees similarities in Zimmer's defensive scheme as the one his former defensive coordinator in Carolina, Sean McDermott, ran with the second-ranked Panthers' defense last season.
"Coach McDermott learned some of the defense we ran in Carolina from Coach Zim," Munnerlyn said. "Different tweaks here and there, different terminology but it's almost the same defense. It's going to be a very physical defense."
Munnerlyn again said he'll start at cornerback and move into the nickel, or slot, role when the game plan calls for three cornerbacks on the field.
The Vikings experimented with Josh Robinson, who is still on the roster, in that role last season and seemingly failed before he went down with a broken sternum in November.
"I can make a whole lot of plays," Munnerlyn said. "That's my nickname for myself, I always call myself the 'big difference.' When I'm on the field, I'm the big difference. I can make a whole lot of plays in this defense."
With the switch in philosophy, the responsibilities of nearly every position on the defense will change. For Brinkley at middle linebacker, that means a steady downhill approach to stop the run first and then play the pass, as opposed to the Cover-Two approach that backpedaled linebackers into zone coverage.
Brinkley said it's an open competition at middle linebacker, where former Viking Erin Henderson started last season and Audie Cole filled in. Second-year linebacker Michael Mauti is also an option.
"Coach Zimmer, how he plays the middle linebackers, it's a great fit for me," Brinkley said.