Brooks Emerges as Unlikely Slot Option
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Ron Brooks wasn't supposed to be a marquee member of the Philadelphia Eagles' 2016 free-agency class but the 27-year-old cornerback has quietly emerged as Jim Schwartz's top option for defending the slot.
Back in March when the Eagles signed the LSU product to a three-year contract, most assumed he was brought in for depth purposes and to help on special teams but Schwartz, who coached the Dallas native back in Buffalo during the 2014 season, had much more in mind.
Throughout the spring Brooks would often see first-team reps opposite another free-agent signing from western New York, Leodis McKelvin, as Eric Rowe experienced some "hiccups' learning the new defense and Nolan Carroll continued to rehabilitate a broken ankle that ended his 2015 season prematurely.
Now that Carroll is healthy again, he has regained his place with the first team opposite McKelvin and Schwartz has Brooks where he envisioned, at the nickel back slot, handling things from the slot. Brooks' work outside, though, has also caught the coaching staff's eye.
“That inside corner nickel spot is a different animal, obviously, than being on the outside on the perimeter,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “There's a lot more – the physical nature of that spot, as well, being able to tackle and take on blockers. (Brooks has) done a nice job there. We'll continue to watch it, monitor that, get as many reps as we can in there. But all the confidence in the world with him being able to transition inside and out.”
At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds Brooks has always cross-trained at both spots since arriving in Buffalo as a fourth-round pick in 2012 but his frame certainly looks the part of a 2016 NFL slot corner and that's where Schwartz wants him.
"It's a little different skill set in there," Schwartz said. "It's a lot different covering on the outside part of the field than it is the inside. You have to have some miniature linebacker in you. You've got to enjoy the briar patch a little bit. You have to have the courage to throw your body up there against 240-pound running backs and you might have to take on a pulling guard from time to time or a tight end.
"And a lot of times you're covering in a shorter area. It’s very rare that you're getting the same routes. You're not getting the same routes from the slot as you are from outside. So there's a different skill set. Some guys can play both, some guys can't."
Asked why the veteran DC has so much confidence in him handling it, Brooks pointed at his quickness and physicality.
"I just go out there and give (Schwartz) my all on every play," Brooks told 973espn.com after practice on Monday. "Just try to put it all on the line. I have good quickness and I am not scared of getting physical. Those are two things in this defense you have to have. They work well together and fit this defense well."
The admiration is mutual as Brooks also talked about his affinity for Schwartz.
"I like him. He's meticulous and wants to work out every detail on the defense," the corner said.
Coming into this season Brooks has just three career starts and hasn't played significant defensive snaps since his rookie season when he was on the field about 15 percent of the time. As the starting nickel corner, however, that number projects to rise to at least 55 to 60 percent in today's NFL environment.
Add that to Brooks' acknowledged special-teams acumen and all of a sudden, an under-the-radar signing is turning out to be a pretty significant one.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen