LB Derrick Brooks expects team leadership to emerge on the field, not in the locker room
Derrick Brooks has played 153 regular season and postseason games as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. In 149 of those games, Warren Sapp lined up in front of him. In 142 of those games, John Lynch was there behind him.
So, yeah, it's going to be a little bit strange for Brooks this year. But maybe not as much as you would think.
Brooks and the Buccaneers just completed a mandatory mini-camp that serves as a precursor to training camp, which begins in roughly five weeks. For the first time in his professional career, Brooks will report to camp without Sapp, who signed with Oakland as an unrestricted free agent, and Lynch, who signed with Denver after being released by the Buccaneers. As tempting as it might be to reminisce, however, Brooks is focused firmly on the present, and what he believes the near future will bring.
"As each day goes on and we come together as a defense you try to look forward to your teammates," said Brooks. "Obviously, Warren and John have been missed and are going to be missed and I respect that. At the same time I look forward to the guys that are here that are going to do the job and look forward to them contributing.
"I owe it to these guys to look forward and not behind. Everyday you jell with your teammates a little bit more to develop that chemistry."
Brooks is a team captain and quite obviously one of the leaders in the locker room. Still, as the Bucs' roster goes through a significant amount of change around him, he doesn't feel any added pressure to assert his influence.
"My leadership is through action and that's not going to change," said Brooks. "My teammates [who used to be] my opponents, they respect the way I played, not what I said. Now that they are my teammates I have to keep that same respect by what I do, not by what I say. I am not a real big talker. I am never going to be; my words come from the actions on that football field."
Brooks' production on the field has shown no signs of slowing down as he enters his 10th NFL season. After winning the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award by a wide margin, Brooks followed in 2003 with his seventh straight Pro Bowl season. And while his reputation may proceed him, the latest Pro Bowl selection was no mere nod to his good name; Brooks earned it. He was an AP All-Pro (second team) after amassing 151 tackles, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and nine passes defensed.
Few would bet against Brooks having a season at least that productive in 2004. Similarly, with such proven contributors as Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly, Dwight Smith, Shelton Quarles, Simeon Rice and Anthony McFarland also returning, the Bucs will more likely than not run their string of consecutive seasons in the top 10 of the defensive rankings to eight.
As the Bucs have previously replaced the strong contributions of the likes of Hardy Nickerson, Donnie Abraham, Brad Culpepper, Chidi Ahanotu, Jamie Duncan, Marcus Jones and Dexter Jackson, they will look to up-and-coming players to excel where Lynch and Sapp used to roam. Among those waiting to emerge are safety Jermaine Phillips and defensive linemen Chartric Darby, Ellis Wyms and Darrell Russell.
There will be new leaders, too. Brooks says they will be identified by their actions.
"It's time to get back to working," he said. "We don't need to say anything. You say you're going to come out on this field and leave your effort on this football field. That's all the talking we need to do. There are going to be some leaders [who] emerge. I look forward to seeing who the leaders are going to be, who will replace these two guys to help me lead this team. That's not going to come by what somebody said; it's going to come by what's somebody is doing."
Eyeing the 31st
Wide receiver Joe Jurevicius called his 2003 season 'very frustrating.'
A 2002 playoff hero, Jurevicius started the '03 campaign with a flourish, making a pair of circus catches for touchdowns in the Bucs' season-opening win at Philadelphia. Rather than serve as a launching pad for his best season yet, however, that game became, in effect, his sole highlight of 2003.
The rest of the year was spent trying to come back from a knee injury suffered in Game Two. Jurevicius did return to play three games in November, but the knee still wasn't sound and he finished the year on injured reserve. His recovery has stretched far into the 2004 offseason, even keeping him out of most of the five practices held at this week's mini-camp.
That inactivity might seem frustrating, as well, but Jurevicius is confident with the plan for his recovery and is looking at the beginning of training camp as his chance to get fully back into the swing of things.
"I know I will be back for training camp, but we are just managing what we do," said Jurevicius. "There is no sense of me going out there right now and, in a sense, busting my tail. I have got to take care of my knee. That is of the utmost importance and I think that we are doing it."
Head Coach Jon Gruden stated on several occasions during the mini-camp that Jurevicius was on track and expected back for training camp. The team expects a strong contribution from him after his 37-catch, four-touchdown season in 2002 and his strong start to 2003. Jurevicius expects the same, and is remaining patient as he moves toward that goal.
"Our training staff has a great plan for me," he said. "I look forward to being back in training camp and get ready to go out there and help this team win football games."
The Bucs' 90 players quickly scattered to the four corners of the globe after Thursday's camp-concluding practice. Final vacations will take them to a wide variety of destinations.
A few Buccaneers still have football-related activities to take care of in the next few days, however.
Jurevicius and second-year quarterback Chris Simms will follow quarterback Jason Garrett to Garrett's alma mater, Princeton, in order to participate in a special project this weekend. Garrett's Starfish Charities is putting on its second annual football clinic and will play host to 200 participants from Play It Smart, an innovative youth development program run by The National Football Foundation and supported by the NFL and the NFLPA.
In addition to Jurevicius and Simms, Garrett will get help from a pair of former New York Giants teammates, running back Tiki Barber and wide receiver Amani Toomer. The student-athletes in attendance will participate in two on-field sessions with instruction from college coaches and pro players who have achieved the highest level of football performance. Between sessions, the participants will attend a life skills workshop where a clear connection will be made between the choices on and off the field.
Last year at this time, Simms was learning life skills of his own at the NFL's annual Rookie Symposium. This year, a new Buccaneer draft class, led by first-round wide receiver Michael Clayton, will attend the mandatory event in San Diego California.
As always, the Symposium will instruct NFL newcomers on the ways to deal with the challenges of their new profession. The league's rookies will be in San Diego from Sunday, June 27 through Wednesday, June 30; fourth-round safety Will Allen will report from the event for Buccaneers.com.