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Derrick Brooks thinks he's still going strong

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LAKE BUENA VISTA — Besides being one of the game's greatest linebackers, a defensive player of the year and perhaps the most accomplished Buccaneer in history, turns out Derrick Brooks has another undeniable quality:

The man is just plain stubborn.

"Derrick is a prideful guy," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "You can't play this game without a little bit of cockiness and a little bit of assuredness about yourself. He has that as much as anybody. When the doubts start creeping in, yes, he should take offense to it and use it to motivate himself. And he has. … He still feels like he has something to prove, and as long as he's got that, he'll still be that leader and be the same No. 55 he's always been."

It appears the one thing Brooks hates more than losing football games is being told what he can and cannot do. Don't think he hasn't heard the whispered doubts about his ability to remain at an elite level given his age, 35. And the chorus grew louder in 2007, when the Bucs acquired from Indianapolis Cato June, who, like Brooks, is the consummate weak-side linebacker.

Brooks responded with a splendid 2007 season, and no one is more convinced of that than he. It's an opinion shaped by many hours of self-analysis on film and paper, as well as through the judgment of trusted associates around the league from whom he seeks periodic critiques. For example, Brooks cites an unofficial statistic he considers a true barometer — tackles per play — saying he recorded the second-most of his career last season.

"Criticism comes with the nature of our job," he said. "But the criticism that I put on myself, that carries more weight than anything that can be written or said about me. There's no bigger critic of Derrick Brooks than Derrick Brooks, because nobody watches my game closer than me. So with that and with the input of my trusted circle, that's how I evaluate my game. That's how I determine whether I'm setting the standard."

Brooks did allow that 2006 wasn't exactly his most impressive season. An uncharacteristic number of missed tackles that season led to increased speculation about his ability to maintain the level of play he has displayed for most of his incredible 13 NFL seasons.

But how long can he continue to do it? And how long will it take for June to steal more of his snaps or supplant him on the weak side? (June starts at strongside linebacker, a position that plays fewer snaps.)

For now, it's not at the forefront of his coaches' minds.

"All the things that have always made him Derrick Brooks haven't changed," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "I don't even know the last time I asked Derrick how old he is. All I go by is what I see on the tape."

Like Brooks, coaches have spent much time evaluating his performance in an effort to make appropriate personnel choices. Brooks and June will continue to split snaps in the nickel defense, which requires an outside linebacker to be replaced by a cornerback in passing situations.

Thus far, the feeling about Brooks and June is that coaches have no reason to push one ahead of the other, largely, they say, because Brooks' performance has made it difficult to justify.

"We've done a lot of research on this, and we've had a lot of experience with veteran players," coach Jon Gruden said. "I've been doing this 11 years, so I'm not a novice with dealing with those types of players. We have conversations with (Brooks and June) so they don't feel like they're getting behind or being left out. I still consider (Brooks) a major part of our team and a key leader and great performer."

Brooks will continue to eliminate age from the equation.

"Whether you make a play or not has nothing to do with age," he said. "It's a yes-or-no question. The plays that I made when I was 21 or 22, I think I made the same plays last year, outside of a couple plays. And that's out of 900 plays.

"What I want to know is, am I just out here on the field, or am I truly producing?"

Clearly, Brooks is clear about where he stands.

Derrick Brooks thinks he's still going strong 07/27/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 1:42pm]
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