COLUMBIA -- Jasper Brinkley is getting ready for the NFL draft, although the South Carolina middle linebacker will serve in a support role this year.
Brinkley, an All-SEC selection in 2006 who missed most of this season with a knee injury, has said repeatedly he intends to return to USC next fall. But defensive end Casper Brinkley, the other half of the Gamecocks' twin-brother tandem, hopes to hear his name called in the April draft.
"I know it's going to be pretty hectic. I'm going to be there encouraging him," Jasper said. "I don't think we should watch it. I think we should just go out or something because it's kind of stressful."
While his brother works out in preparation for USC's pro timing day in March, Jasper continues to rehab the right knee he injured in the first half against LSU on Sept. 22.
Three months after undergoing surgery to re-attach the lateral collateral ligament, Brinkley is on schedule with his rehab, if not a little ahead.
"I have to slow him down more than anything else," said team doctor Jeff Guy, who performed the surgery. "He's doing well."
After keeping his leg immobilized for six weeks after the surgery, Brinkley began the second phase of his rehab -- working on range of motion and strengthening the knee. Following the holiday break, Brinkley will begin running in a swimming pool before progressing to a running program on land.
Neither he nor USC coach Steve Spurrier feels an urgency to have Brinkley ready for spring practice in March.
"If I can do a little spring, I always want to get out there and try to better my game," he said. "But if it gets where my leg starts hurting or something like that, I can always take myself out."
New defensive coordinator Bryan VanGorder need only look at game tapes from the '06 season to get a glimpse of what Brinkley can do. The 6-foot-2, 262-pounder finished with 107 tackles, more than twice as many as the Gamecocks' second-leading tackler.
Although Brinkley was USC's top tackler when he was injured this past season, he was limited by a high-ankle sprain that prevented him from displaying his '06 form.
Mike Detillier, a Louisiana-based NFL draft expert, had Brinkley slotted as a late-second to early-third round pick before he collided with USC safety Emanuel Cook and a LSU receiver and tore the ligament.
"He's much better off returning back to school. I think any time you have that type of injury, you're not guaranteed anything," Detillier said. "You're better off returning back where you can increase your value as a football player on draft day."
Like any elite athlete who gets injured, Brinkley had to put himself through emotional rehab as well. He skipped the Mississippi State game days after his surgery and watched the Gamecocks' away games from his family's home in Thomson, Ga.
His brother, whom he lived with at USC for two years, served as his lifeline to the team, which dropped its final five games to finish 6-6 and miss out on a bowl.
"I found myself living through him every weekend," he said. "It's hard, looking out there, knowing that I can't be out there -- a part of the team that I felt like I was the heart and soul of. Without me being out there, I just felt so devastated.
"I had to turn my head towards him and Eric Norwood and Captain Munnerlyn, Emanuel Cook. I lived through those guys. Every time they made a big play, I felt like I was a part of it."
Brinkley's spirits were lifted by a phone call from Philadelphia linebacker Takeo Spikes, whose Sandersville, Ga., hometown is not far from Thomson. Spikes, on injured reserve with a torn rotator cuff, talked to Brinkley about fighting through tough days in the training room.
"He told me you're only going to get out of it what you put into it," Brinkley said. "He was telling me when he used to do his rehab, some days he went in, didn't want to do it. You've just got to bear with it. You know you're doing it for a good reason."
Before the USC-Clemson game at Williams-Brice Stadium, Brinkley joined his mother, Joyce, on the field before the game for a ceremony recognizing Casper and the team's other departing seniors.
The brothers have played football together since the Thomson rec leagues and stood side-by-side as linebackers at Georgia Military College before enrolling at USC.
Unless they end up on the same NFL team, the Brinkleys probably have played their last down together. But as he watched his brother run out of the tunnel on senior night, Jasper said he was grateful for the time they had together.
"I was very proud, just of the accomplishments that he's done. Just knowing where we came from. We came from a small town. We went to a junior college because we weren't fortunate enough to come straight to a Division I (school)," he said.
"We made our last two years very special in Division I football. A lot of people don't have the opportunity that we had."