LB Jasper Brinkley Likely to SAM with McClain Re-signed


LB Jasper Brinkley is a career MIKE, but even before the Cowboys announced the re-signing of Rolando McClain, Brinkley is just clearly better suited for the SAM.

After losing Bruce Carter and Justin Durant in mid-March, the Dallas Cowboys came to a modest 2 year agreement with LB Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley, 29, is a career MIKE, limited in coverage, but strong in run-support. Previously, Brinkley was used predominantly as 2-down player, exiting the field on 3rd downs to avoid exposure. As long as it was a run play, Brinkley did very well. Passing plays? Not so much.

Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated Jasper Brinkley as MN’s second worst LB pass-defender with a -5.4 coverage score. That number is extremely damning considering he left the field on most passing downs. Comparing his score to PFF’s coverage ratings of 2014 Dallas Cowboys LBs, Brinkley would have ranked similarly, coming in as the 3rd worst coverage LB, behind Anthony Hitchens and Bruce Carter (not to mention a staggering 10 points below what Rolando McClain achieved in the middle).

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Much like Keith Rivers, Jasper Brinkley was signed to provide intelligence and depth to a decimated LB Corps. The Cowboys had no way of knowing if Rolando McClain would come back or not. A modest offer was on the table but McClain was looking for something much bigger. Brinkley seemed like a smart move then because he stopped the bleeding at MIKE and could be a day 1 starter.

The MIKE isn’t something just anyone can play. Much is expected of the MIKE in Rod Marinelli’s system. The MIKE takes (and delivers) punishing hits multiple time a game. The abuse endured is typically greater than anyone else on the defense (and we wonder why McClain broke down last season).

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Toughness isn’t all that’s needed at MIKE, coverage ability is also extremely important. And effective player needs to have fluid hips, instincts, and speed, allowing him to drop back to cover the deep middle and seam routes. Ball skills are a must as are a strong knowledge of assignments. Any hesitation can have tragic results.

Does this describe Jasper Brinkley? Not exactly. The Minnesota Vikings pulled him from passing downs and limited his exposure in coverage for a reason. Rolando McClain’s injury history suggests he needs a reliable back-up, but Brinkley may not be the best man for the job.

Could the Cowboys do a similar rotation as the Vikings and move in a more fluid undersized LB on 3rd down to handle the bulk of the coverage responsibilities for Brinkley? Sure they could, if such a player was on the roster. But they could also play their 2-down run-stopping LB extraordinaire at a position specifically designed for him – SAM

The SAM is an instinctual and oft-attacking player who typically plays on 1st and 2nd down only. On passing downs, defenses often switch to nickel personnel and replace the SAM with a nickel cornerback. This offers a built-in solution to Brinkley’s weakness and allows the Cowboys to start their 3 best LBs.

Jasper Brinkley offers a strong and reliable run-stopper to this Dallas Cowboys defense that could slot him as a decent 2-down MIKE behind Rolando McClain. But Brinkley has the potential to be much more than that and has a skillset that could make him a rock-solid SAM for the foreseeable future.

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