Derrick Brooks has already received the ultimate honor for an NFL player, as he was officially welcomed into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 2. In a way, though, the recognition he will receive this weekend at Raymond James Stadium promises to be just as emotionally significant.
On Sunday, Brooks will be inducted into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. His name and his retired jersey number, 55, will be unveiled on the stadium façade, joining those of Lee Roy Selmon, John McKay, Jimmie Giles, Paul Gruber and Warren Sapp. Brooks' unparalleled career will be celebrated during a halftime ceremony and he will have a chance to speak to the only NFL fan base he ever called his own.
That's why Sunday's honor is so special: This is home. This is his family. Lovie Smith, the Buccaneers' head coach and Brooks' position coach from 1996-99, understands what that will mean to his former charge.
"Whenever I go back to Big Sandy, [Texas,] it's really special when you see those people acknowledging you," said Smith, referring to his hometown. "And for Derrick, all the awards he's gotten, but you want to be acknowledged by your team – these people around here that know you better than everyone. So this is an important weekend."
"From being with Derrick the first day to everything that's happened since then, he's been about the best at whatever he's tried to do. So that says at the end that you're recognized in your home stadium by your home team, and of course the Hall of Fame – all of that."
Smith also understands what Sunday's ceremony will mean to the current Buccaneer players, especially those who are trying to establish the same sort of dominant defense that Brooks spurred on for so many seasons.
"We're going to introduce our defensive players this week," said the coach. "They know what our history is on defense and they know what Derrick has meant, and I want them to feel that. Our guys coming back, we have a lot of guys coming back for Derrick. We want those defensive guys to feel that pressure on the standard that's been set and what they expect to see this weekend."
As the Bucs' preparations for Sunday's game neared their end, Smith discussed a variety of additional topics on Friday, as seen below.
"How about the injury list first? We've got three guys that didn't practice today, [defensive end] Michael Johnson, [cornerback] Rashaan Melvin and [tight end] Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Normally when you don't practice all week, it's not looking good for you to play. The rest of the players all practiced, at least on a limited basis, including [running back] Doug Martin. Some of the players that we've gotten back [defensive lineman] Da'Quan Bowers, [defensive lineman] Will Gholston, both of them have looked pretty good this week. We lost a couple of players – I guess I haven't talked to you since [defensive end] Adrian Clayborn either, that's a tough blow, and Adrian has done everything we've asked him to do the entire time I've been here. He's a warrior, but that's tough losing him. He'll start the rehab and that long process of getting back, which he'll do. [Offensive coordinator] Jeff Tedford is back in town. He wasn't at practice out there today, but he is back in town. I'll get with him a little bit more this afternoon and see exactly where we are. St. Louis, we're excited to play, it's been a long time coming. You want to get that bad taste out of your mouth, like they do, two 0-1 teams that need to get a win. The crowd was great in the fourth quarter when we did our share, hopefully we can start fast and get them into the game a little bit earlier."
On if Tedford is on schedule to call plays this Sunday:
"He is still on schedule, nothing has changed from that."
On if Clayborn's toughness is why they discovered the injury later than usual:
"After the game, you're sore, everyone is, we didn't practice in pads until Thursday, and it's kind of hard to really tell exactly. Adrian is a tough guy so all of those things contributed a little bit, but it became obvious after he got back out there."
On how important is having success early in the season for a new coach:
"I say we really need to win. I'm not running away from your question, but I said we really needed to win last week. If you don't [win], it's not the end of the world, we want to win every game, but no one except for one team has, but what we want to see – last week, that's who we are right now, and then this week we want to see is major improvements. Hopefully that's good enough for us to win a football game. As long as we continue to get better each time we go out, I'm okay with that. Eventually we will end up winning football games, I hope it's this week. Based on what we've done and what I've seen, we're going to win before long."
On the depth at the defensive end position:
"I talked about Will Gholston coming back, Scott Solomon is back, Jacquies Smith is back into the rotation, and we still feel pretty good. Da'Quan Bowers can play a couple of different positions whether it's outside or inside as a pass rusher and we might go eight defensive linemen this week too, we have some good options. We lost good players, but we feel good about the next group that will be playing this week. Whenever you lose a player like Michael Johnson, that hurts you, that hurt, but the other players will pick up."
On if guard Logan Mankins was a full participant in practice on Friday:
"Full participation on Friday, we're not in pads – yes, he did all of the work that we asked him to do, the same as yesterday. Limited, he was in pads yesterday on a limited basis, he didn't take every rep, but he looked pretty good. He's right on course on how we saw this week panning out."
On defensive end Jacquies Smith:
"For us to bring in a guy, he has to be able to rush – we have to think that he can be an edge rusher. We saw that before and we were able to bring him aboard our football team and that's what he showed this week. And then for him, what a great opportunity. You come here and right away we're giving you a chance to prove exactly who you are. Early signs look pretty good."
On if the depth of the team is being tested after multiple season-ending injuries:
"Yeah, and my experience says, sometime during the year, you're going to be in this situation. Yeah, a little early for us, but that's why you have to develop that 53-man roster; and really, that's why you develop that 63-man roster and just keep your options open. Talking defensively-speaking, that's a position where you can come in and play fairly quick. It's not like there's a whole lot of mental things going on up front with what we asked our guys to do. You just need to be able to start off being able to rush the passer and get in your gap and play hard. But the depth is being tested and we feel like we have decent depth."
On if he sees similarities between defensive end Will Gholston and defensive end Corey Wootton, who he coached in Chicago:
"Yes, there are. They're both, as you mentioned, the size, body type – they're both very similar players. I hadn't thought of that until right now. But yes, they can do a lot of the same things. I would say both of those players were more…their talents were more suited toward being an every down player than just being an edge rusher. So a combination of the two. Corey Wooton is a good football player. Will Gholston though, didn't know a lot about him initially when I got here, but he's stout against the run and he's a pretty good pass rusher too. It's a shame he got hurt because he was just really coming on. I'm anxious to see him. We're anxious to see him play this weekend."
On the fact that he doesn't want to be facing third-and-longs on offense for two weeks in a row:
"No, we can't. And no one wants to be. It's just hard converting on third-and-8s. When you're a balanced offensive attack, you shouldn't be in a lot of third-and-8 situations. You have to have some production on those early downs and we didn't last week. That's something we need to correct this week. And that just starts off pretty much with being able to run the ball. But at the same time, you can't be just predictable and say, 'Hey, first two downs, we're going to run, run, run and get three yards each time, and now we're third-and-4.' But we don't want to get into long situations, yes."