LB Derrick Brooks surveys the entire NFL linebacker field each year to see where he needs to improve
By now, you've heard enough about how Derrick Brooks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers feel about the weather in up-state Wisconsin. Maybe you'd rather know how they feel in that freezing clime, with the cold winds clearing out their heads.
Near 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers arrived in Green Bay, where they would make final preparations before Sunday's season finale in frigid Lambeau Field. Shortly after the Bucs' arrival at the team hotel, Brooks, the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker who will lead his squad into battle on Sunday, addressed a variety of issues.
Here are Brooks' thoughts on the evening of the game.
When did you start to realize how good you could be in the NFL?
"I think it was when coach and his staff came down," said Brooks. "I was one of the first players he called, and he asked me what I thought of the team.
"I was just off my rookie year. I figured Hardy Nickerson or one of the other veterans would get that call. But he called me and we had a long one-on-one about the team. He said, 'This is what I see your role being.' He said that I had had a good rookie year but that he saw greatness in me.
"That was good for me to hear because I plan on being one of the great ones. I was a starter in '96 and I haven't looked back since."
How have you kept your fire to keep improving since then?
"Coach (Lovie) Smith always does a good job of challenging me," said Brooks. "He always finds something for me to improve each year. And I look around the NFC and there a lot of great outside linebackers…the young guys just keep getting better. I look at the rest of them and see how I can make my game better."
What, specifically, are you working on to make your game better?
"Turnovers," he said, matter-of-factly. "I feel like I'm a difference-maker on the field. Last year, it was interceptions. Quarterbacks were throwing at me, and I made them pay. This year, they're throwing away from me, so the only way I can get turnovers is to knock the ball loose. I've done that five times this year.
"Also, I try to keep improving my open-field tackling. I pride myself on that. I still haven't made the perfect tackle. I'm not going to make the type of ferocious hit that John (Lynch) makes, but I think I can make the perfect open-field tackle."
How has the win over St. Louis affected the team's attitude?
"I think the big thing from the Monday night game is how we won it," said Brooks. "It's great to see parts of the team that have struggled really come through for you. The way we won that game, scoring 38 points, was much better than if we had just shut down the Rams. We know the defense is going to get the job done, now we have confidence in the offense. We need that momentum from them."
Can you evaluate the Bucs' current situation, with the NFC Central title still up for grabs?
"The roles are reversed for us and Minnesota, but otherwise it's the same," he said. "Last year, they needed to win and they needed us to lose on the final weekend to win the NFC Central. This year, we need to win and have them lose. Everything else is the same.
"I'm glad they play at 4:00, because that means we won't be tempted to do any scoreboard-watching during the game. We just need to take care of business. If we win, the worst-case scenario is that we have a home game to start the playoffs."