April 28, 2008

NFL Dreams Alive For Brinkley, Mitchell

Casper Brinkley thought his dream of being selected in the NFL Draft would come to fruition this past weekend when a pair of clubs told him they were considering taking him in the later rounds.

But it didn't happen.

Brinkley will still get an opportunity to make a NFL roster, though.

The former Gamecock defensive end was one of 10 free agents signed by the Carolina Panthers on Monday less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the two-day draft extravaganza in New York City.

"I'm just happy I've got a shot," Brinkley said. "I have to go there and prove myself."

Brinkley will report to the Panthers' headquarters at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday for a three-day rookie and free-agent mini-camp.

Running back Cory Boyd was the only former USC player taken in the NFL Draft. He was selected in the seventh round (No. 238 overall) by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The handwriting may have been on the wall for Brinkley when he failed to receive an invitation to February's NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Nevertheless, he continued to maintain belief that he had a decent chance of being drafted entering the weekend. Phone calls from the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills lifted his hopes.

"I knew there was a possibility I wouldn't get drafted," Brinkley said. "I tried not to think about it and stay positive. As the draft got deeper, a lot of teams started calling me and said we had one more draft pick. They were giving me a heads up. But when the draft was over and nobody had called my name, it was kind of disappointing."

Once the draft was over, Brinkley and his agent moved quickly to contact teams. He signed with the Panthers, which are based in Charlotte, N.C.

"I talked with my agent right after the last pick," Brinkley said. "He told about an opportunity with the Panthers. It feels good that I'll be able to stay close with my brother."

Brinkley feels he will get a good look from the Panthers since they drafted just one defensive lineman, 6-foot-4, 291-pound tackle Nick Hayden of Wisconsin, and identified that position as an area of need prior to the draft.

"They picked only one defensive lineman and they're talking about moving a couple of their defensive ends to tackle," Brinkley said. "That should give me a real good chance."

After transferring from Georgia Military College along with his twin brother Jasper following the 2005 season, Brinkley played both defensive end and linebacker for the Gamecocks during his two seasons in Columbia. He had 59 tackles last year, including 13.0 for loss, three sacks and three quarterback hurries.

He had 103 tackles in his two seasons with USC.

Brinkley had pre-draft conversations with Bills, which selected former USC All-SEC defensive back Ko Simpson in 2006.

"I went up there and spoke with them and they said they would try to get me," Brinkley said.

The Bills, however, opted to go in a different direction.

Jasper Brinkley, who led USC with 107 tackles in 2006, elected to return to the Gamecocks for another year of college football after suffering torn knee ligaments last September in the road loss to eventual national champion LSU at Baton Rouge.

Former USC quarterback Blake Mitchell, who graduated from USC in December with a degree in history, plans to go to New Orleans next week to participate in the Saints' rookie and free agent mini-camp.

Mitchell, though, has not signed a contract.

"As of right now, I'm going to rookie camp in New Orleans, but I haven't signed anything yet, so we're still trying to look around," Mitchell said. "(New Orleans) talked with my agent. Everything came together (Sunday) night. I'm going to go down there and give it a shot and see what happens."

While Mitchell says no other teams have invited him to participate in their rookie free agent camp, his agent is still working the phones.

Like Brinkley, he hopes to earn an invitation to training camp with the Saints or another NFL club.

Mitchell completed 60.7 percent (482 for 794) of his career passes for 5,992 yards and 38 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. He finished third on USC's career passing yardage list, while his completion percentage is the best in school history.

Despite those numbers, he didn't presume being drafted.

Over the course of the two days of the NFL Draft, a total of 13 quarterbacks were selected, including three from the SEC - Erik Ainge of Tennessee (5th round, NY Jets), Matt Flynn of LSU (7th round, Green Bay Packers) and Andre Woodson of Kentucky (6th round, NY Giants).

"I didn't think I was going to get drafted," Mitchell said. "I knew I would probably be a free agent, I'm not surprised I wasn't drafted and I'm not disappointed."

Mitchell will report to the Saints on Thur., May 8 for a three-day rookie mini-camp.







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