Sometimes, it’s a good sign that you can find a defensive player easily before the snap. It might mean he’s a special body type, standing out among his peers — DE Byron Cowart for the Terrapins is one of those guys. Kyle Crabbs wrote about Cowart’s eye-popping debut.
But sometimes, failing to find a prospect easily also serves as a positive sign. It means he gets lined up in so many different spots for a defense, you have to scan the whole team just to locate him. And that was Cowart’s teammate, Antoine Brooks Jr.
5-foot-10, 210 pounds. Quick — where does he play? Safety is the easy answer — but in the traditional definition of the position, it doesn’t make sense. Brooks Jr. rarely, if ever, lines up as the deepest man on the defense; he doesn’t look to gain depth at the snap. Really, he’s listed as the starting nickel corner for the Terps — but again, the traditional role doesn’t encapsulate what Brooks Jr. contributes. Not to mention…most nickels aren’t 210 pounds.
Brooks Jr. lines up as an overhang defender creeping up the line of scrimmage to run blitz the mesh point on option looks. He shifts out over the second receiver in close man coverage when faced with trips; he’ll split the second receiver and the offensive line against two receiver sets to the field side. In dime packages or deeper, he plays MIKE and spies the QB/blitzes/drops to short zones.
So what position does Brooks Jr. play? The physical one; the one near where the ball is going to go. The one with multiple responsibilities per play, that has to respond to run and pass differently and quickly. Call it what you like.
I call it the Jabrill Peppers role. Maybe even the Derwin James one.
Now, Brooks Jr. isn’t Derwin, and he isn’t Jabrill. I didn’t say that, and you know it. But the modern, do-it-all college safety is illustrated in how these defenses move their best playmakers — physical and willing against the run; quick and sticky in coverage — around the field.
How does a player offer everything Brooks Jr. does? He plays quarterback in high school, electing to focus on defense after a gruesome senior year injury. Quarterbacks see the field quicker; see the field different — and it shows up in Brooks Jr.’s tape.
He’s the first player to rally to the backfield when closing from the box — as 11 tackles on the evening serves to prove. He’s aggressive under-cutting route concepts when playing as that nickel corner. And heck, he might just have a ball skill or two to boot.
Antoine Brooks picks it off to seal @TerpsFootball's upset win.
— Maryland On BTN (@MarylandOnBTN) September 1, 2018
That’s a heck of an elevation and sideline catch to seal the game — nice awareness. Brooks Jr. was recruited as a 3-star athlete out of college, but that rating had to be affected by his injury and two-way play — I saw an explosive, springy defender on the field. Those 210 pounds sit nice and thick on his stout frame, which helps him deliver physicality to blockers when playing the overhang. There’s a lot to like.
Brooks Jr. looks to me like an impact defender for a Terps defense that loves to fly around the field. They flustered Texas’ rushing attack all day with their speed into the backfield and willingness to take on linemen. Big Ten play likely brings with it an increased degree of physicality — I’ll be interested to see if Brooks Jr. continues to hang with the big bodies in the box. If he can, we certainly have a live one on our hands.