Last season Ahmad Brooks was a rotational linebacker usually utilized to pressure the quarterback on passing downs. The little time of what was seen of him during game situations was mostly positive, but it was overlooked by poor overall team performance. Since the end of the lockout, Brooks has been making it known in both practice and preseason games that he is gunning for a starting spot in 2011.
He has remained consistent as a force to be reckoned with in the trenches, but has proven to be just as valuable in coverage. In this past preseason bout against the Houston Texans, Brooks intercepted Matt Schaub’s pass on the first play of the game for a 49ers touchdown. The ascension in that part of his game may have put him over the top for a starting role.
On the play, Brooks displayed great awareness and patience; diagnosing the play and picking off the check-down. He has shown improvement in his coverage skills and the Niners staff has taken notice. With Brooks on defense, Houston’s first two drives resulted in a touchdown going the other way and a field goal.
In the past two seasons, 2009 & 2010, Brooks has recorded 11 sacks as a situational player rather than a starter. As a proven rusher in a 3-4 system, the defensive staff and head coach Jim Harbaugh should be able to find a starting spot for him in the new pressure based system. He seemed to have come together as a complete NFL linebacker, so his debut season as a starter should be an exciting one.
San Francisco has been without a viable outside linebacker since Julian Peterson left for browner pastures. The fact of the matter is, the play from Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson hasn't been near elite and it is time for a makeover at the position.
Parys Haralson is rumored to be battling it out with Aldon Smith for the opposite available linebacker spot, but should be ahead as Smith is still experiencing rookie growing pains in pass coverage. Haralson will bring continuity to a changing defense if he happens to win the starting role.
Niners Faithful should be ecstatic that the outside linebackers are getting a changeup at the position. With some fresh legs and a new attitude, we could potentially see a completely new defense in 2011, that’s how important the position is.
Honestly, if Ahmad Brooks starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if he wound up with double-digit sacks and an invitation to Hawaii; the potential is there. I remember, one year, all of a sudden, James Harrison finally became relevant after being cut 4 times; 3 by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is now a 4-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl Champion.
San Francisco is in a rebuilding year and Brooks could prove to be an essential building block for the organization. He’s made strides as a player and has stayed patient, similar to defensive lineman Ray McDonald who is set to start at left end for the first time in his career in 2011. This should be an all-or-nothing season for both Brooks and McDonald, so expect fierce play from the 49ers front seven this season.
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