When the Ravens drafted Terrence Brooks in the third round, many plugged him into the starting lineup immediately. Brooks — the rangy free safety from the national champion Florida State Seminole team — possesses a skill set that pairs nicely with the thumping Elam.
After indicating an intention early in the offseason to get faster on the back end, thus adding playmakers, Brooks’ highlight reel had Ravens fans excited. Covering ground quickly, it produced a nice collection of breathtaking interceptions to raise expectations. But just as fans saw last year, plugging in a rookie at safety isn’t always a seamless transition, and while Brooks flashed playmaking ability on film, there were other indications that maybe he wasn’t completely as polished as need be.
When Elam first cracked the lineup, he was exposed on the back end. Forced to play a lot of free safety due to Michael Huff’s failure and James Ihedigbo’s presence, the Florida product had a bit of a rough go early on. The NFL presents a different challenge for fresh-eyed safeties and cornerbacks, and while some are able to hit the ground running, even most first round picks stumble out of the gate.
Brooks was a player that produced differing opinions heading into the draft. Some had him pegged as a late round player. Others, like the Ravens, had him top-40 overall, and a top-5 safety. One thing people didn’t question was his ability to close on the ball.
Despite sometimes having slow reactions, he compensates with near-elite speed. It is clear that Brooks is a very impressive quick-twitch athlete, and once he sets his mind on getting somewhere, he arrives faster than most. However, this can also hamper him in run defense, as he will sometimes throw his body at ballcarriers, and this will come at the expense of proper tackling fundamentals. Other times, he displays sure tackling, so the potential is there to improve.
No player is perfect, and this is why the analysis is more a mode of framing the necessary steps to reach their potential. If Brooks’ detractions are reactions and fundamentals, those are teachable. And clearly, the raw athleticism is something that can’t be taught.
Even still, Brooks hasn’t been shy about the challenge that lies ahead of him in the safety competition. The Ravens brought in Darian Stewart, who has reportedly looked very good across from Matt Elam in minicamps. Brooks’ work is cut out for him and the learning curve will do him no favors.
To Brooks, the biggest challenge for rookies is “eliminating all of the clutter, all of the outside distractions and things like that, and just getting back to football and becoming, like I said, a student of the game … You don’t have school anymore,” Brooks said. “For the most part, I’m doing well with it. I feel like I’m more comfortable right now – definitely in a good spot.”
Hopefully this increased free time allows Brooks to absorb coaching and improve upon some of the weaknesses in his game. It appears as though he has a good grasp on what the Ravens are looking for, and understands that they won’t be asking him to reinvent the wheel. Brooks knows, “they brought me here for a reason, so I just have to show them what I put on film to get me here.”
The Ravens often say they want their safeties to be able to play both positions — free and strong. However, it is clear that they drafted Brooks knowing he adds talent to their safeties’ coverage. Since Ed Reed left, the ballhawking on the back end has been lacking, so with Brooks skills and proper development, there is no reason not to expect improvement. He could even work on his hands a bit, as while he gets himself in position, he can let passes slip his grasps. In the end, it seems Brooks isn’t content being a one-sided safety, and surely part of becoming a student of the game is rounding off the edges.
“[Tackling is] one part of the game, but you also have to cover. I pride myself in doing it all – covering, tackling and having a lot of range on that field. It’s not just hitting as a safety. You have to make sure you’re the commander back there, make sure the whole defense is set up right. So, it’s a lot that goes into it.”
It almost seems like Brooks is talking about his present and future self at once.
Commander isn’t a title to be thrown around lightly, and surely it must be earned. For Brooks, the first stripe on his sleeve will come in earning the starting spot. Then, we’ll go from there.