Hail the third-string that drew blood
It's dread Week Four of the preseason, lacking even the suspense of potential injury to an important player. No fan ever wants a important player to be injured in the preseason, but at least it's relevant. It creates suspense. As does the silly, wrongheaded yet undeniable need to interpret the play of established starters. So the progression goes: Week One--first football in months; Week Two--still just buggin' about watching football, plus some of the young talent is separating itself; Week Three--the game that matters, or whatever; Week Four--sweet Mammon, would the regular season start already?
For a few players we're never going to care all that much about no matter what I write here, Week Four is sudden death. They are of fringe talent or have yet to distinguish themselves or are stuck behind established depth and often all three, but--adding little or no value to special teams--have little hope of eking their way in or being signed by another team after cuts. Were this a human-interest story (what a strikingly broad category), maybe I would write more about them. There is a compelling story to be told about the thousands of preternaturally talented, insanely dedicated people that will never, ever be good enough. Maybe someday I will write a book about them, inspired by Studs Terkel's Working. Maybe.
For today the light and fluffy and purely football stuff. The few, the promising, the also never likely to make it: I present a third-string talent that flashed potential this preseason. For him, it may never be this good again.
Who?: This guy.
Brooks was not a Combine invite. He's a big man that is relatively speaking a small man, a slow man that is relatively speaking impressively quick, a bully a badass a bruiser that likely has no NFL future because center-guard double teams will bully Brooks, knock him on his ass and bury him. His potential resides in one of two potentialities: a weight gain so massive that it would be tantamount to a growth spurt or effectiveness at creating gut pressure in sub-packages.
At his campus weigh-in Brooks was 294 but if his NFL profile is to be believed, he's back to his college playing weight of 276. That would seem to indicate Seattle is most interested in him as a Jason Jones, Michael Bennett sub-package defensive tackle.
Need?: Bennett has a partially torn rotator cuff, Jordan Hill has a partially torn bicep, Jaye Howard missed some time but's probably okay--there's some kind of need, but even accounting for the two-way depth provided by Bennett, Hill and Howard, going four-deep at situational defensive tackle is a luxury. A luxury a team thin at three-tech probably can't afford.
And I care, because?: The parallels to Bennett are striking enough to make you notice. Bennett tore up the 2009 preseason: nine tackles, two sacks, five QB hurries, a tipped pass and a fumble recovery. But was cut in the great roster botch of 2009. Brooks has not similarly tore up the preseason, but he's been very good. The funny thing about NFL stats, especially over small time spans, is that good play can be "invisible." But a penetration can be more valuable than a tackle ... (Note: For fear that the pure suck of my gifs might create gravitational lensing, bigtrain21 saved me, us, and the universe really with a pair of replacement gifs. Behold their gifly excellence.)
and the difference between a pressure and a sack can be coverage and quarterback prerogative ...
so assessment of good play requires actually watching the game, and not just skimming the box score.
Etc.: Brooks is a little more than a year younger than Bennett was in 2009. He's not young-young, but having turned 23 yesterday, there's still some room for physical growth, etc. He's a high-motor, heavy hands, quick-first-step kind of player--the kind of precocious-skill/borderline-talent player you would expect to play well in the preseason, but doesn't project to big things, and could be badly exposed by regular season competition.
Seattle needs a player like Brooks. Few other teams in the NFL do. He has no spot within a 3-4, so cut away 15 teams straight out. Among 4-3 teams, only a few use a strong side, "big" defensive end: Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Oakland, to my knowledge. Otherwise he's very much a tweener: not stout enough to play regularly on the inside and not quick or agile enough to create pressure from the outside. Any one of those four teams and especially Jacksonville it seems, could sign Brooks should he be cut and maybe secure him on their practice squad. But you can guess which way that path likely leads. He will have to start over. He will have the twin stinks of newness and past rejection. His football career, one that probably began with ungodly dominance in Pop Warner, and extended through four years of standout play at Bartlett Yancey High School, one that involved a drive-ending sack on Case Keenum and pushing Linval Joseph for snaps as a true freshman, and the resolve and fight to endure long rehabs from two serious injuries to the same knee, one of recruiting trips and nerve-wracking interviews and tryouts and bad days in the mud, of making promises to his girlfriends and his mom, to the kind of all possessing dreams that lift you out of your body on a sultry August day in Roxboro, North Carolina, Michael Brooks's football career may very well live or die depending on tonight.