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Updated: March 25th, 2012 6:33pm
Notebook: Jasper Brinkley 'ready to roll,' may replace E.J. Henderson

Notebook: Jasper Brinkley 'ready to roll,' may replace E.J. Henderson

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Minnesota Vikings aren't closing the door on veteran middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, but it sure seems that door is wide open for Jasper Brinkley to take his place.

After missing last season following microfracture hip surgery, Brinkley is "100 percent healthy and ready to roll," general manager Rick Spielman said on Sunday. And all indications are the Vikings prefer to give Brinkley his shot as a full-time starter rather than re-signing a declining, 31-year-old Henderson and hoping his body holds up.

Brinkley, 26, hasn't started a game since 2009, when he started four following the gruesome fractured femur in Henderson's left leg that ended his season in early December.

"When (Brinkley) did step in for E.J., he continued to get better and really started playing well -- especially as we went through the playoffs and the more experience he got," Spielman said, shortly after arriving for the NFL meetings at The Breakers resort.

"He started off very well last year (in training camp) and it's a shame he got his hip hurt, but we've got a lot of high expectations for Jasper coming back."

Surgeons inserted a titanium rod into Henderson's leg and he returned to play every game the past two seasons. But the knee into which the rod was inserted caused enough pain and swelling last season that Henderson was limited to a part-time role in five games -- a situation that might have yielded playing time for Brinkley if he hadn't undergone season-ending surgery in August.

Coach Leslie Frazier said the Vikings are "interested" in bringing back Henderson, who made $4.7 million in the final year of his contract and is an unrestricted free agent. But the Vikings' youth movement makes it unlikely they'd pursue Henderson unless they need to fill a hole after April's NFL Draft.

"We'll keep in contact with E.J., but I don't know," Spielman said. "... We'll always be keeping the door open on some of these guys."

Brinkley has similar downhill run traits to Henderson but never has been strong in coverage. So, one scenario for filling the void is to start Brinkley in the base defense and take him off the field in nickel in favor of Chad Greenway and E.J.'s brother, Erin Henderson, whom the Vikings re-signed to a one-year, $2 million deal on Friday.

Asked if Erin Henderson can be a three-down player, Spielman said, "The coaches will determine that when he comes in and there will be a lot of competition and we'll see how it plays out. But we're very excited to get Erin back."

Nothing in the secondary?

Twelve days into free agency, the Vikings have signed only one defensive back -- former college basketball player Nick Taylor, who spent last season in a minor arena football league and is a project to say the least.

But Spielman referred to Antoine Winfield's return from a broken collarbone and Chris Cook's recent acquittal on domestic assault charges as significant additions to a cornerback group that was a mess in 2011.

"And then there's a pretty good crop of corners in this year's draft," Spielman said, "and we know that if we do go the corner route, those guys are going to have to step in and their coaches will do a great job developing them. But I guess when you look at the addition of getting Chris Cook back and the addition of getting back Antoine Winfield -- that helps."

Spielman confirmed Cook has met with Vikings officials and is "going to be back" after missing 10 games last season following his Oct. 22 arrest.

The bigger question at this stage probably is at safety, where Jamarca Sanford and rookie Mistral Raymond finished the season as starters. Sanford probably isn't more than a special teamer, Raymond needs development and Husain Abdullah, who finished the season on injured reserve because of concussions, is an unrestricted free agent.

"Ah, man -- we're still working through that," Frazier said of the safety situation. "There's some things we're trying to get done, but we'll see."

More replay?

Two of seven potential rules changes on the table for these meetings involve instant replay, and Frazier indicated he'd be in favor of an expansion of replay in some cases.

The first proposal, submitted by Buffalo, would allow an official in the replay booth to make all decisions, rather than an official on the field. The other proposal, submitted by the NFL competition committee, would expand the use of booth-requested reviews to not only scoring plays, but "traditional turnovers," including fumbles and interceptions.

"In some instances, yes, I think it would be a plus," Frazier said. "You see it all the time -- especially on the road, where you're trying to figure out 'what should we do,' but there's no pictures so you're hamstrung and it's frustrating."

Other proposals would expand the horse collar tackle rule to include the quarterback in the pocket; carry over postseason overtime rules to the regular season; marry up with college rules on muffed kicks and too many men on the field; and expand defenseless player rules.

Quick hits

• Spielman said he's yet to get serious calls from teams interested in trading for the No. 3 overall draft pick. "After people get back from these meetings, then they hone in on their draft meetings and then start finalizing their plans," Spielman said. "That's usually when teams start to decide whether they're going to trade or not trade or what type of moves they're going to make."

• OL Geoff Schwartz, signed to a one-year deal that included a $150,000 bonus, will have an opportunity to compete for a starting job, Spielman said.

• Compensatory selections in April's draft should be announced Monday or Tuesday. Spielman has said the Vikings hope to receive a pair of fourth-round picks for the losses of WR Sidney Rice and DE Ray Edwards.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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