Here is a link to my Friday column about Ahmad Brooks. The full text runs below:
Ahmad Brooks is staring at his second chance.
He was a star linebacker for the 49ers, played on the right side of the defense, the brutal side, the skill side until Aldon Smith came in 2011. The right outside linebacker rushes a right-handed quarterback’s blindside. Kill shot.
Smith came and went. The Niners have moved Brooks back to the right side. His chance. He is one of four essential defensive players along with NaVorro Bowman and safeties Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid.
Last season, he got benched part of a game for arguing with Jim Tomsula on the sideline. Got benched one game for missing a team meeting. Remember the missed team meeting. It comes back later. His largest sack total ever was 8.5. Modest. In 2013, he had 52 solo tackles. Monster.
Thursday lunchtime. He walks down the long, wide, high-ceiling lobby of Levi’s Stadium. Says hello to me. Sits on a bench along the wall. Waits. A linebacker tensing for the next play.
“Last season was up and down for you,” I say. “There was even talk they might not want you on the team anymore.”
“OK,” he says.
“Now, you’re really important. Aldon’s gone.”
“Umm,” he says.
“What is it like to go from 2014 when your status was not what you wanted to now?”
Before you read Brooks’ answer, I must interrupt. He is one of the smartest 49ers. What he gives now is a Level One answer. Rote. Hardly any thought:
“It starts from how you want to go about your business, what type of legacy you want to go forth with. I told myself at the end of the season last year I wouldn’t let anything outside of what I can control affect me. I just put my head down and focused on what I can do to make Ahmad Brooks better. Hopefully, I have a great season in 2015.”
Second interruption. Brooks pretty much has said nothing. He’s controlling what he can control. Well, stop the presses. He even refers to himself in third person. Ugh. He needs to rise to Level Two. And he does.
“I’m going to slow you down,” I say.
“What does it mean to have a more focused attitude? Do you dream about football, run around your house with a football? You see what I’m saying. It’s a cliché, ‘I’m focused.’ Be specific.
“You just envision football day in and day out,” he says, wanting to compete in this game. “Even if it’s April the 10th and I’m outside throwing the football with my dog, I envision myself scoring a touchdown, making that big play.”
“What I understand is you always are like that but it’s even more now.”
“What is your job?”
“Like coach (Jim) Harbaugh told the team, ‘You guys signed up to be professional football players. You’re in the ass-kicking business.’ So, we’re in the ass-kicking business. No matter what position you play, you have to win your one-on-on battles. You have to win battles where you get double-teamed. You’ve got to prove how strong you are, how fast you are. As a linebacker, I think we’re head hunters. We’re the guys that make the tackles.”
“Do you like being in the ass-kicking business?”
“It’s fun, yeah.”
“What’s fun about it?”
A cloud crosses his face. He reconsiders.
“We’ve been playing this game a very long time,” he says. “The older you get, you realize, ‘Well, damn, this is not as fun as it used to be.’ Things are more serious now. People are depending on me. Their job is on the line. My job is on the line. It kind of takes the fun out of the game. But, you’ve got guys in it with you going through the same thing.”
“I imagine there are games you go after some guard or tackle where you can beat him. Do you feel that? Does it become like you own this guy?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure. I haven’t got it to the point where I was just dominating somebody all game. I probably had a few games like that. I want to get to the point where I just have this guy’s number all game. He can’t stop me.”
“When you have a guy’s number, can you see it in his eyes?”
“Yeah. A scared look.”
“When you see the scared look what do you think?”
“It’s time to get him.”
“I know exactly what you mean. It’s how you’re supposed to feel. Are you good at your job?”
“Are you the best now you’ve ever been?”
“I don’t know.”
Ahmad Brooks doesn’t know?
“Wow, that’s an interesting answer,” I say. “Why don’t you know?”
“There was a point in my career I was the top dog. I was just blatantly better than everybody else. I felt like I was unstoppable.”
“When was that?
“It was throughout high school and college (Virginia), making All American honors. Even coming into my rookie season with Cincinnati, I still felt I could be a dominant player. I still feel I can be, should be. This is Year 10 for me. I’m taking a different approach how I rush the passer. I haven’t done a great job rushing the passer. This year I expect to make double-digit sacks.”
“What part of your game is more developed than rushing the passer?”
“Being able to recognize the play. I was an inside linebacker, so I recognize formations pretty good. I play the run pretty good. I play the pass pretty good. There are other parts of my game that still need to be polished.”
He is being forthright. He is about to say more. A public-relations guy shows up, voice urgent. “You have a meeting, Ahmad.” Brooks levitates. Takes a great first step toward the locker room. Never again be late for a team meeting.
“I gotta go,” he says over his shoulder. “Thank you.”
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.