LB Derrick Brooks uses his startling speed to make plays all over the field
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers now have three younger brothers in the NFL (Baltimore, Carolina and Jacksonville), and another on the way in Houston. The 'expansion' label for these 1976 NFL entrants is starting to peel off.
Still, the Bucs' 25-year-old history books, relatively short by comparison to most teams, does leave the team a little thin in some areas, historically. When Brad Johnson was signed as a free agent earlier this month and compared to the best quarterback in team history, could the discussion go far beyond Doug Williams? Staking claim to the title of best cornerback in team history, would Donnie Abraham get much argument beyond Ricky Reynolds and Mike Washington supporters?
Linebacker, however, is another matter.
Tampa Bay's linebacking tradition is rich, even considering the franchise's 14 years of basic futility between 1983 and 1996. Just about any era you choose from Buc history has sported an outstanding linebacker or two, from Richard Wood to Dewey Selmon, David Lewis to Cecil Johnson, Hugh Green to Scot Brantley, Jeff Davis to Winston Moss, Hardy Nickerson to Derrick Brooks.
Buccaneer linebackers have had 200 tackle seasons (Nickerson, 1993), 11-sack seasons (Broderick Thomas, 1991) and five-interception seasons (Johnson, 1981). Twelve of the 47 Pro Bowl berths in team history have gone to linebackers (Nickerson 5, Brooks 4, Green 2, Lewis 1). Linebackers have been voted the team MVP by local media nine times in 25 seasons.
So, to state that Brooks is staking his claim as the best linebacker in team history is saying quite a bit indeed.
Is it a valid claim?
Well, Brooks will soon be the team's all-time leader in the one statistic most often used to measure linebackers: tackles. With his 179 stops last season, Brooks pushed his six-year career total to 942, an average of 157 tackles per campaign. The franchise's all-time leader is Nickerson, now in Jacksonville, who racked up 1,028 stops in seven Buc seasons.
Thus, Brooks needs just 87 tackles in 2001 to become Tampa Bay's all-time leading tackler. One suspects he could do that with Martin Gramatica tied to his back.
If that were all the evidence we had to support the claim on Brooks' superiority…well, it might be enough. But we've got more.
The man who wears the speed limit on his back may be the fastest linebacker in team history. His 'sideline-to-sideline' speed, as it is often called, allows him to help the team immensely in coverage, and the evidence is right there in his 60 career pass breakups. Including defensive backs, Abraham is the only current Buccaneer with more passes defensed (102).
Brooks also causes turnovers, with nine career interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. And, he's remarkably consistent; his last four single-season tackle totals: 182, 189, 180, 179. He has never missed a game in six years and has started all but three of the 101 contests in that span (including playoffs).
Derrick Brooks has been to four consecutive Pro Bowls and has been named to the even more exclusive AP All-Pro First Team each of the past two years. He's finished in the top five in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year balloting two years running.
There's little argument that he is one of the league's finest linebackers. Is he the best at his position in Buccaneer history? Well, that's certainly a subjective issue, but there is evidence to support a yes.
NFL Films recently compiled some of that evidence into a short highlight package of Brooks' 2000 season. Click here to watch the clip in Real Player at 56K download speed. Click here for 100K and click here for 300K.