Notebook: Vikings sticking with Jasper Brinkley for now despite issues
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The Minnesota Vikings are sticking with Jasper Brinkley at middle linebacker for now, despite another performance on Friday night that showed he has a ways to go in his return from hip surgery.
Brinkley, who missed all of last season, showed some progress while playing throughout the first half of the Vikings' 36-14 exhibition win over Buffalo. He stopped Bills halfback Fred Jackson on the opening play and was credited with three tackles (two solo).
But Brinkley continued to appear tentative and indecisive at times as he did a week earlier at San Francisco despite expanded action intended to help him settle in. Though there remains optimism he'll come around, he's not there yet.
"In Jasper's case, you want to remember that he's missed so much football," coach Leslie Frazier said after the game.
"One of the things we went into this game saying was we want him to get more reps because he has to get his timing down. He has to get comfortable and he has to believe, 'I'm not going to get hurt. I can play fast and I can play hard."
That's not exactly a ringing endorsement from Frazier, who has dropped several hints recently that coaches aren't sold on starting Brinkley even though he's been atop the depth chart since the Vikings decided not to re-sign veteran E.J. Henderson.
Brinkley, 27, also missed part of organized team activity practices and the mandatory minicamp this spring because of a groin strain, costing him opportunities to improve and costing the Vikings chances to evaluate him.
The hope all along has been to have Brinkley play strictly in the base defense, since he's a downhill player who isn't strong in coverage. That means he'd be off the field on about 50% of snaps, with Erin Henderson playing the mike linebacker in nickel.
Frazier has made clear the Vikings defense must be predicated on stopping the run, and there is no clear Plan B for the base defense. One option could be moving Erin Henderson to the middle full-time and filling his spot at weakside linebacker with Marvin Mitchell, who took over there in the base defense in the third series on Friday.
"With Marvin and Erin, they're still guys that don't have a lot of starts under their belt," Frazier said, "so we want to get a lot of tape on them as well, so they can play confident and understand what we're trying to get across from a defensive standpoint."
He added that Brinkley and Henderson are "quasi-starters, but we don't want them to feel like, 'I've got the job.' That's not where we are as a defense."
Tyrone McKenzie has been playing the middle with the second string but isn't a lock to make the roster. Third-stringer Audie Cole, the rookie seventh-round pick from North Carolina State, continued his strong preseason on Friday with two late interception returns for touchdowns.
Changing it up
One week after giving up 260 yards rushing to San Francisco in the exhibition opener, the Vikings held the Bills to only 68 yards on 20 carries (3.4 average).
They did it with more sound fundamentals, but also a strategic change that could be a sign of things to come for their Tampa-2 scheme.
In 13 gradable snaps with all or most of the starters on the field, the Vikings played a two-deep look only three times -- the first snap of each series. They repeatedly rolled Harrison Smith, Mistral Raymond or Jamarca Sanford down to match up in coverage, blitz and help against the run, with mostly favorable returns.
Raymond stopped Jackson for a 2-yard loss on a run blitz on the opening series and then made an aggressive move out of quarters coverage to stick Jackson after a 1-yard reception on the next snap, halting the Bills' opening drive. Minutes later, Smith batted down a pass on an inside blitz to end the Bills' second drive.
The Bills didn't burn them until the third drive, when Sanford took a false step as Donald Jones crossed his face and won the race to the pylon for a 31-yard touchdown. The Vikings reinserted Raymond on the next drive.
Looking for one more
Frazier all but named Smith a starter after the game but said he needed to watch the tape before saying anyone had a lead on the second safety job.
"Mistral has had a good camp. I think Jamarca Sanford had a good camp. Those guys guys are battling for a spot," Frazier said. "We'd like them to be in the starting lineup. I thought Andrew Sendejo did a good job when he was in there as well, both at special teams and at safety.
"It's a good little battle and hopefully, we'll get (rookie) Robert Blanton this week and get him in the mix. But our secondary should be much improved with the help we're getting at safety."
Asked if the Vikings might rotate two players in the other spot, as they did at times last season with Sanford and Tyrell Johnson, Frazier said, "I think we would all like to see, from a staff standpoint, one guy take that job where we feel confident we have a tandem that can run our secondary."
In your face
The Vikings drove 80 yards in eight plays for a touchdown on Friday's opening drive despite two sacks of Christian Ponder, who didn't take any in two series the previous week at San Francisco.
Marcell Dareus finished off that one, and Williams finished off the second sack by getting off Johnson for a late loop around rookie left tackle Matt Kalil, who was locked on end Mark Anderson.
Ponder wasn't sacked again and finished 10-of-13 for 136 yards, a touchdown and a 135.4 rating over three drives before giving way to backup Joe Webb.
"I don't think there were any adjustments made," Ponder said. "It was early on in the ballgame and had to get used to the speed of the game.
"I could've done a better job, especially on the one where the guy (Williams) hit my knee. I could've moved to the right and probably done a better job of getting out of the way. But after that, I had all day back there.
Defensive end Jared Allen was impressed by what he saw on Friday, but it had nothing to do with what happened on the field.
Rather, Allen was impressed by how the Metrodome fans not only kept the wave going for a solid 25 minutes in the third quarter but also began to toss their programs in their air in unison as the wave moved through their section.
"It was awesome. It all started because they wanted a (pass interference call) and you know what? They never cease to amaze me," Allen said. "At the end, I figured there were some fans that weren't really cool with it, some grumpy people in the crowd getting confetti on their head. I thought it was hilarious. Well done, well done to our fans."
Allen reserved his greatest praise for the fan who managed to sail a paper airplane from the upper deck to the field.
"I saw a paper airplane come from the top deck and land about the 50-yard line. That's impressive," he said. "That's got to be some sort of record."
• With TE John Carlson (knee) still sidelined, rookie TE Rhett Ellison got another long look on Friday, playing 14 of 27 snaps (51.9%) when the starting offense was on the field. He had one catch for 8 yards.
• Rookie WR Jarius Wright, who also got significant time with the starters at San Francisco, only got two snaps with them on Friday. That probably had a lot to do with WR Percy Harvin making his preseason debut. Harvin took a bubble screen for a 21-yard gain and played 16 snaps over two series before departing.
• The Vikings moved out of the dorms at Minnesota State University in Mankato on Thursday morning and will resume practice on Sunday at their Winter Park headquarters in Eden Prairie.