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“This is where I wanted to be,” Brinkley said. “I had a good season last year. Just given the opportunities I had, and given the guys that are here and the mentality the coaches have, there’s definitely a winning mentality here, and I want to be a part of that.
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The move came after the first waves of free agency brought over defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, and linebacker Keenan Robinson. Additionally, the Giants re-signed defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul in the hopes of improving the unit.
“I can see we made great strides this offseason,” Brinkley said. “We brought some top-tier quality players in here on the defensive side of the ball. That’s going to take us a long way. I’m excited to get back out on the green grass with those guys.”
WHAT HE BRINGS
Brinkley, 30, enters his eighth NFL season after originally being drafted in the fifth round by the Vikings in 2009. He had two stints in Minnesota from 2009-12 and 2014 with a year playing for the Arizona Cardinals in between. Brinkley signed with the Dallas Cowboys last March but was released less than a week before the 2015 season started. Overall, Brinkley has played in 94 games with 42 starts. His career numbers include 315 tackles (17 tackles for loss), two sacks, four passes defensed, nine forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Brinkley has also suited up in three postseason outings, all with Minnesota.
HOW HE FITS
The 6-foot-1, 252-pound veteran has made all of his career starts at middle linebacker, a revolving door for much of last season stemming from injuries to defensive co-captain Jon Beason. Brinkley will compete with players like Robinson, a former Redskin who also played in the middle.
First-year coach Ben McAdoo was asked at the NFL Annual Meeting last week where he stands at the middle linebacker spot.
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“It’s like a lot of positions right now,” he said before the Brinkley signing. “We have the draft we’re getting ready for and free agency. You look at things as a whole, not just who’s on your roster, but who’s available throughout the rest of the league, and we’ll attack it that way. Everything is fluid at this point.”
Added Brinkley: “There’s always competition. Nothing has ever been given to me. I have to earn it. Keenan is going to give great competition.”
In addition to Brinkley and Robinson, the linebacker room includes Devon Kennard, Jonathan Casillas, Mark Herzlich, J.T. Thomas, Uani ‘Unga, Nico Johnson, and James Morris. After an impressive rookie campaign, Kennard took over at strongside linebacker in his second season but missed seven games to injuries. Herzlich and Casillas backed him up, while Thomas manned the weakside for the majority of the year. ‘Unga was the Giants’ opening-day starter at middle linebacker in 2015, and J.T. Thomas also got a start there when the team opened with an extra defensive back. The position is now coached by Bill McGovern, who coached the Eagles’ outside linebackers the previous three seasons.
As March comes to a close, the remaining linebackers on NFL.com’s “Top 99” list of free agents are Mike Neal (previously with the Packers) and Zach Brown (Titans). Meanwhile, the 2016 NFL Draft is less than a month away. According to NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock, the top five linebackers in this year’s class are: 1) Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame; 2) Myles Jack, UCLA; 3) Darron Lee, Ohio State; 4) Reggie Ragland, Alabama; and 5) Deion Jones, LSU.