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Jasper Brinkley: "Never stop working"

"I just had a little strain," he said. "You know how the media is."Jasper Brinkley has been under the microscope since it became clear that he would be the starting middle linebacker for the 2012 Minnesota Vikings.

After an excellent rookie season filling in for linebacker E.J. Henderson, Brinkley has missed quite a bit of time as a player on the team.

Henderson's return in 2010 limited Brinkley's opportunities, and hip surgery ended his 2011 season before he could play a down.

Brinkley's durability has always been a question for Vikings fans, alongside questions about his coverage skill. We took some time to talk to the linebacker. Join us below the jump.

What became immediately obvious in the first practice is that Brinkley loves the practice in pads. He enjoyed the ability to hit, and the feel that he was playing football again. He couldn't help but smile when we asked him how he felt about finally practicing in pads. "[Feels] great, man. It's been a year since I've had the pads on. It's nice to have them back on. Feels good."

His year away from the field, as well as his concerning—but unrelated—groin injury at camp has been a question for fans, but Brinkley insists he is "ready to go."

Earlier this year, he told the Augusta Chronicle that he only had a minor strain in minicamps, and insisted the media may have blown it a little out of proportion.

"I just had a little strain," he said. "You know how the media is."

While the Vikings have expressed concern about his durability, there's no question that Brinkley is committed to high level play.

To that end, he had maintained a strong rehab schedule in the offseason and focused at that as his primary work.

He's healthy for now and according to Frazier, "he hasn't had to be in the training room for any reason."

When asked about how he would approach coverage, a perceived weakness of his, Brinkley maintained that it is no different than working on any other skill.

"I think any professional athlete always works on things that need to be worked on. There's a never a time that you don't. As soon as you stop working on them, you're on your way out of the league"

While the middle linebacker hasn't taken any snaps in nickel packages, the Vikings are beginning to trust him more in coverage situations, even diagramming plays giving him more coverage responsibilities than typically expected of him.

Fellow linebacker Chad Greenway seemingly agrees with Brinkley's evolving role in the defense. "He's got so much ability, and his head's in the right place. He wants it," he said. "We're hoping he stays healthy and has a great camp. I think when he gets to where he's going, people are going to be pretty impressed with what he's got."

When asked about what obstacles he'll face, Brinkley emphasized finding motivation from within.

"My only challenge would be myself. Just staying motivated," he said. "I've got a great group of guys around me ... I'm blessed to have those type of players".

I asked Brinkley to shift gears and be a talent evaluator for a moment. But when asked about which defensive rookie stood out to him, he didn't have an inclination to specify

"All of the [rookies have impressed me], he said. In particular, he highlighted the "drive and determination" that these rookies have showed, and that he loves that there are rookies "coming in hungry."

He stressed that there was "not just one [he] can name."

He was a bit more open when asked about Audie Cole, specifically. To Brinkley, Cole is "definitely a downhill guy, kind of like myself."

Brinkley seems excited to see what Cole can bring once the pads come on. The rookie's reputation as a tough run defender seems to be well warranted, and there's a good possibility that Cole will prove himself in that regard.