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Jasper Brinkley Can Taste Starting Job

Free agent linebacker ready to compete for Cardinals


New Cardinals linebacker Jasper Brinkley takes part in a recent workout.

Some tastes don't go away.

It could be the postgame buffet or the airplane food. It could be the taste of winning, whether it be the division, a Wild Card Game or the Super Bowl. It could be laying a chin-strap rattling hit or scoring a touchdown. Once it happens for the first time, an NFL player wants it to happen all the time.

In the case of Jasper Brinkley, he never wants to come off the bench again.

"Anything else would be uncivilized," Brinkley said. "Once you get a taste of that starting role, it's hard to get it out. It's hard to get that taste out. You want to do all the things necessary to continue to be a starter."

Even if it means a fresh start.

Brinkley had two suitors in free agency this year, the Cardinals and the New York Giants. Both squads needed help at

linebacker, but after researching each situation in depth, the Cardinals felt like Brinkley's "calling." An opportunity to start was opened up when the Cardinals didn't re-sign Paris Lenon, who started at inside linebacker last season.

When Brinkley met with Cardinals coach Bruce Arians before signing, Arians said he wanted a linebacker who would be a vocal leader. Brinkley fit those needs.

"But in this league just being a starter is not (just) being a starter because you have to go out and work every day," Brinkley said. "Each day stands on its own foot."

He learned that the hard way. After starting four games his first two seasons in the league, Brinkley missed 2011 with a torn labral in his hip. Following his surgery in Vail, Colo., Brinkley couldn't walk for six weeks. It took him until the end of training camp in 2012 to regain his footwork and instincts. He was only feeling 100 percent healthy by the second preseason game last year.

When Brinkley returned he returned a new player, not just physically but mentally. The drive he developed while rehabbing his hip resulted in him starting every game in 2012. He had 99 tackles and forced three fumbles.

"Sometimes when guys get injured, they lose it," he said. "They lose the love for the game. It only made mine stronger because I wanted to come back out and prove to people I could still do it."

With that accomplished, Brinkley's working on proving it wasn't a one-time thing.

Even though his stay in Arizona is less than two weeks old, he's already establishing himself as the quarterback of the defense, fellow linebacker Sam Acho said.

"Right now we're just at a point of understanding at learning," Acho said. "He's done a good job taking ownership of it.

"He's already a leader. You can tell by his demeanor."

Other than coming into a strange locker room, Brinkley is on an even playing field with his teammates. A new coaching staff means a new scheme, which is only in its second week of being installed. Everyone is learning it from scratch. Everyone is on the same page.

It's giving Brinkley a chance to shoot out of the starting gate.

"He has a good understanding of football," linebackers coach Mike Caldwell said. "It's a new defense, new terminology. He's been through it before. He asks good questions. He's diligent in his studies.

"You could tell he's excited about it. He's up early. He's watching film now. He's doing all the things that a true professional would do."

If Brinkley can earn a starting job, he doesn't want to lose it. With the news that fellow inside linebacker Daryl Washington will miss the first four games of the upcoming season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, Brinkley may have an opportunity to showcase himself starting with the season opener.

Brinkley's decision to sign with the Cardinals was well-researched. He looked into who was leaving and who would be his main competition to start. He even looked into the best places to live around the Valley.

It was the best fit for him but there wasn't a guarantee. After everything Brinkley's been through, he was ready to prove himself again. He tasted the starting life and he was hungry for more.

"Opportunity was definitely what I was looking for," he said. "I didn't come here with the expectation knowing I would be the starter.

"I just wanted the opportunity."

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