The San Francisco 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers 35-3 in the 2012 preseason finale. Seventh-year linebacker Ahmad Brooks received a lot of exposure last Thursday night. And, he did so without stepping foot on the playing field.
With Jim Harbaugh electing to rest his entire starting defense, Brooks’ attention was largely through the team’s Gameday Magazine where he served as the second cover story of the team’s 10 home programs. The story examines Brooks’ rise in recent years as a member of San Francisco’s feared defensive attack. Photographed by Kym Fortino and designed by Ben Mayberry, the cover story also looks at the positive comments made by Brooks’ coaches this offseason after he signed a six-year contract extension with the club.
Ahmad Brooks continues to excel at his job while entering his seventh NFL season and fifth year with the San Francisco 49ers.
By Taylor Price, 49ers.com
Ahmad Brooks came into the National Football League with everything to prove. A third-round selection in the 2006 NFL Supplemental Draft, Brooks had to earn his way on to the Cincinnati Bengals 53-man roster. Despite earning a roster spot as a rookie, his first two seasons in the league were up and down. Brooks finished the 2007 season on the Injured Reserve List and was later waived during the Bengals 2008 training camp. What could have been seen as a low point was actually a blessing in disguise when the 49ers stepped in and claimed him days before the 2008 season began.
Fast forward to his seventh season in the league, the 6-foot-3, 259-pound outside linebacker has approached his latest training camp with more vigor than ever before.
“I’m a lot more mature,” says Brooks, 28. “I want it more. I want to be great. I know I’m good, but I want to be a dominant force in the NFL. I feel like I’m in my prime as far as my age and my build, my physical ability as well as my mental ability, just having mental knowledge of the game. I know what to expect, not only do I know my position but I know what everybody else in the defense is doing.”
As a member of the San Francisco 49ers talented starting linebacking corps, Brooks is coming off his best season as a pro (16 starts, 59 tackles, 7.0 sacks and one forced fumble). Because of his consistent efforts on one of the league’s toughest defenses, Brooks was rewarded with a six-year contract extension at the start of the 2012 free agency period. Now, Brooks will be with the 49ers through the 2017 season, a fact not lost on the supremely physical player who’s solid at setting the edge to stop the run and can also get after opposing quarterbacks with aggressive pass-rushing moves.
“It feels good with it being my fifth year being out here,” says Brooks contently after a recent training camp practice. “This feels like a year for me to showcase everything and make it a breakout season.”
Brooks broke out of his sub-package pass-rusher role to be an every-down player for the 49ers last season. It didn’t take long for him to assert himself as one of the team’s top difference-makers, either. Three weeks into his first season playing under head coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Brooks had already become a savior of sorts. Facing the team that helped him get his professional football career off the ground, Brooks made three consecutive plays in the red zone to keep the Bengals out of the end zone on the game’s opening possession. Good thing he did, the 49ers won the pivotal road game 13-8 on their way to a 13-win regular season.
Brooks wasn’t done impressing. In a Week 8 home contest against Ohio’s other pro team, Brooks made a statement to everyone in attendance by sacking Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy despite losing his helmet before the hit. As a result, Brooks suffered a minor cut on his lip from his collision. Everyone around Brooks appreciated his team-first effort, but the 49ers linebacker didn’t seek glory. Did Brooks demonstrate his patented sack dance? Nope. That’s because Brooks doesn’t have one.
“I keep my head down and keep moving,” he says.
Brooks has had 20.0 career sacks and zero dances to show for it. No matter, he vowed to continue approaching his offseason preparation with a relentless effort. It wasn’t hard for Brooks to become a gym rat. All he had to do was head over to the team’s Santa Clara Training Facility to work alongside defensive teammates Justin Smith and Ray McDonald throughout the offseason. There, Brooks’ passion for training became undeniable.
“Now that I’m in the NFL and have had a little success, the preparation means a lot more,” says Brooks. “On any given day something can happen, your career could be cut short. You always have to prepare as if today’s your last day. You have to take full advantage of your opportunities and I think that helped me going into this year. I wanted to work on my physique. I knew if I did that, everything would take care of itself.”
Brooks took insight from teammates away from the defensive side of the ball, too. Seeing how All-Pro kicker David Akers approached his craft was a welcomed sight for Brooks who sought ways to become a better teammate and player.
“He’s not playing the same position, but some of the things he does off the field, I pay attention to,” Brooks says of Akers, tied as the most experienced player on San Francisco’s roster. “I notice how he goes about his business away from the game, how he treats his teammates, his coaches, the staff around here. I just take things from everybody and try to mold myself.”
Brooks’ physical maturation hasn’t been hard to notice. Coaches like Fangio have praised him throughout training camp for being in the best shape of his football life. Asked how Brooks has conducted himself with newfound financial security, the respected coordinator said it’s been a pleasant development. “I think it’s been excellent,” Fangio told reporters early in camp. “He signed his big contract… and he didn’t disappear. He was here even more so than he’s ever been and was one of our best workers in the offseason.”
Harbaugh also spoke highly of Brooks’ efforts.
“I don’t know if he doubled, tripled or quadrupled his salary, but this is the best shape he’s been in,” the 49ers coach said. “People say it’s the best offseason he’s had. I think that speaks volumes about a guy, a person. Some people tend to go the other way when money enters the picture like that. I’ve been real impressed.”
Besides early offseason workouts with the team’s starting defensive tackles Smith and McDonald, Brooks was baptized this offseason, and has spent a lot of time with his 4-year-old daughter Natalia.
“My daughter means everything to me,” Brooks says. “She’s 4-years-old and I’m still shocked that she’s 4. Yesterday it felt like she was just born. In my eyes, she’s still a baby; she’ll always be a baby. It’s a blessing to have a child.”
Natalia isn’t the only exuberant person in Brooks’ life. According to the starting linebacker, teammates inside the locker room tend to keep him young at heart.
“It’s fun being around the guys,” says Brooks. “Guys joke all the time. You gotta’ understand we’re children at heart; we want to keep our youth going. Football, man, it’s a young man’s sport. You can even tell when Randy Moss came here. He’s probably one of the most youthful guys we have in the locker room.”
As for Brooks, “I’m not really a boisterous, loud, type of guy,” he says. “I’m not really out-spoken like that, even though I do speak my mind, I do like to sit back and observe.”
In watching his teammates closer than ever before, Brooks has picked up on the finer details that make some of his teammates the best at what they do. Case in point: Brooks now watches 49ers all-time rushing leader Frank Gore. Brooks always knew Gore to be a dominant runner; he just never understood how well-rounded of a player Gore was until he recently put on a show in a training camp blitz pickup drill.
“I never noticed Frank to be a person to block the way he did – he was throwing guys on the ground. I was like, ‘Good job Frank,’” recalls Brooks. “I’ve never really seen that from him, I’m so used to seeing him running with the ball. Those are the things people don’t see, but us as teammates, we see it and appreciate it.”
Likewise, teammates have raved about Brooks’ commitment to making the defense even better in 2012. Following a year in which the unit ranked second in points allowed, Brooks and company are eager to continue their dominant play for years to come. So when the 49ers line up Thursday night against the visiting San Diego Chargers for the 2012 preseason finale, Brooks will treat the last preseason tune up just like his rookie days, when he was exhausted from running routes as a scout team player.
“Just like practice, you have to prepare as if it’s a game,” says Brooks. “When the lights turned on and the ball is snapped, everything happens so quickly. You’ve got to be able to think on your toes. From an outside linebacker’s perspective, you have to know exactly what to do. For me, it’s always been a dream to play NFL football. When the chance came, I went head-in. I didn’t look back. I just wanted to make the team, I didn’t know for sure if I was going to get cut – that thought never crossed my mind. I just wanted to make it and I wanted to play. I didn’t want to lose out on anything. When they asked me to go out and run routes for the scout team, I was dead tired, but I did it. I never second-guessed it.”
You would never second-guess Brooks’ quest to become the best he can possibly be. If the offseason work ethic is any indication, the seventh-year player is ready to continue crushing his 9-to-5 for seasons to come.
Tags: Ahmad Brooks, Jim Harbaugh, Vic Fangio
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