LB Derrick Brooks isn't used to watching rather than playing, but he's making the most of his observer role
Derrick Brooks stood on the sideline or behind the offensive huddle on Thursday as his Tampa Bay Buccaneers conducted a two-hour morning practice. The workout, part of a three-day run of "organized team activity days," was voluntary, though well-attended.
Still recovering from a foot ailment that caused him to miss the Pro Bowl in February, Brooks was held out of the session as a precautionary move. In other words, this thoroughly proven veteran was hanging out at a practice which he did not have to attend and had no chance of joining.
That's not particularly surprising, of course, given Brooks' dedicated, team-oriented approach to the game. Besides, while being on the field would be preferred, he is enjoying the role of silent observer. As the eight-time Pro Bowler prepares for his 11th season, he is taking a less vocal, more evaluative approach to the early part of the offseason program.
"I've been trying to keep the muzzle on," said Brooks. "I want these guys to get used to making their own mistakes. In the past, I've either yelled out checks or gone out of my way to do stuff. Right now, I'm just sitting back and allowing these kids and the new guys to learn on their own. They need to make mistakes now – that's good, so that they don't make them again. So right now I'm just sitting back and observing."
There's no real danger of a mental setback for Brooks, who could be back on the field soon. After all, he's been working under the same defensive coordinator and in the same system since 1996. He has played in all 160 regular season games of his 10-year career and hasn't had less than 133 tackles in a season since he was a rookie in '95. These OTA days in the early spring are most valuable to those players who haven't worn a Buccaneer uniform for very long, and Brooks is keenly watching the progress of those newcomers.
"I'm not participating in these three days, but the approach is always the same," he said. "You introduce new guys that we've signed to the tempo of practice, get a look at the team from a pre-draft standpoint and really, for the two weeks that guys have been here, start to get football terminology down. Everything has been lifting weights and running; now they're starting to put football terminology together. It's a chance for the coaches to look at some stuff, introduce some new stuff and change some stuff. These three days allow them to do that before we go into the draft."
The Bucs' roster includes three linebackers – Jermaine Taylor, Byron Hardmon and Josh Buhl – who were signed since the end of 2004. However, it also reflects the departure of Ian Gold, the starter at strongside linebacker last fall. The battle to replace Gold will likely be contested not by newcomers but by veterans Jeff Gooch and Ryan Nece – with second-year man Marquis Cooper as a dark horse – but it's still one of the team's more important offseason issues. Brooks will keep his eye on that development, as well.
"Obviously, Ian is a great player in this league and we wish him well," said Brooks of his one-year teammate, who returned to Denver in March. "Who's to say? Right now, we don't know who is going to replace him, so it's kind of hard to address right now. [Gooch and Nece] can, because they're familiar with what we do and they don't have to do it alone. We all have to do our parts to replace a player with the talents of Ian Gold."
As for his own progress, Brooks is patient and unconcerned. His return will come in plenty of time to get fully prepared for the 2005 campaign.
"It will be soon, but I'm not going to try to be the doctor or the trainer," he said. "I'm just going to do the regimen that they have and when I'm ready to go I'll be ready to go."
The Bucs still have most of their 14-week offseason training program ahead of them; it ends in late June with the club's one mandatory mini-camp of the year. Still, with two weeks of weight room sessions and the first swatch of OTA days under their belts, the Bucs are well into their necessary transition from a disappointing 2004 to a 2005 season filled with promise.
"Right now, we're not looking back, we're looking forward," said Brooks. "People can pick and say what they want. Three years ago we won and we didn't have a chance then either. Coach [Jon Gruden] had just gotten here. What I'm going to do is let all that stuff take care of itself. We're just going to look to work on the field. Let's put in our work on the field and we'll get what we deserve."