Monday, June 08, 2009

Teacher ... Ready to Learn

By Steve Lansdale
Posted Jun 7, 2009

CARROLLTON, Tex. - For many NFL veterans, mini-camps and Organized Team Activities (OTAs) can be described as mundane ... at best.

In today's NFL, players are working out year-round, so it's not like most veterans have to get in shape at this time of year - they already are - but there definitely is a period of getting back into the routine, getting back into a football frame of mind. Watch these "practice" sessions closely, and it's clear there are many veterans whose mines are still on a golf course, or perhaps a Caribbean fishing trip.

That's not the case with veteran linebacker Keith Brooking, who signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in the offseason after an 11-year run with the Atlanta Falcons that included five trips to the Pro Bowl.

Long considered one of the faces of the Atlanta franchise, and a leader on the field and in the Falcons' locker room, Brooking now finds himself in the unusual situation of being a newcomer on a team on which he also is one of the elder statesmen. Left tackle Flozell Adams also is entering his 12th NFL season; the only Cowboy who has been in the league longer is backup quarterback Jon Kitna, who is preparing for his 13th season in the league.

Brooking said that the transition to a new team can be made much easier - or more difficult - depending on the personnel and scehemes of the new team, and said that his past experience with Dallas head coach Wade Phillips - who also coached in Atlanta - would allow him to make that transition more easily than some of the rookies who are learning the system for the first time.

"Well I think for me, it's totally different this year," he said. "It just depends on what type of defensive scheme you have, that you're involved in. Whether you're on the same team and have a different coach, a different coordinator, a different system, different terminology ... For me, it's a big difference, personally, because obviously it's a change of scenery, it's a new defense, the locker room is full of new guys, so it's a big transition for me.

"It's up to me to come out here and familiarize myself with the players, the coaches, the system - and I have a history with Wade in this system before, so (it's a matter of) just refreshing that, the terminology ... all those things. With rookies, though, you're getting the whole kitchen sink thrown at you, so obviously it depends on the particular player, and depends on what point they are in their career(s)."

The experience and success Brooking enjoyed in Phillips' system while they were with the Falcons has the former Georgia Tech star thinking about establishing the bond and familiarity teammates need to share while sorting out the terminology of the once-familiar system.

"There's a high turnover, regardless, every year." he said, "so there's always new guys, and this is a time to get comfortable with one another, and build that chemistry.

"But even though I'm a 12-year veteran, at times out there, my head's spinning. Regardless of how hesitant you are, in your mind, you may think before the ball is snapped that you're going to do the wrong thing, but make sure you if you do, you do it at 100 miles an hour. That's really important for the coaches to see that. My head's spinning right now - I think we've installed every defense in our system, and we ran every play in our system today. They're throwing a lot at you right now, to see how you handle it, but the main thing is that if you make a mistake, you make it going 100 miles an hour."

Brooking understands his role in his new team's pecking order, on and off the field. On the field, the Cowboys are led by stars like DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo and Jason Witten. But even though he's new to the Dallas organization, Brooking realizes he has a lot he can contribute, especially to his younger teammates, while he establishes his on-field role.

"I just try to come out here and show the guys how important football is to me, because it means a tremendous amount to me, and I try to show that with my work ethic, my desire and my love of the game," he said. "This locker room is full of guys like that, so I'm fitting right in - it's been an easy transition. I love our locker room, I love our guys, I love their mentality, I love their work ethic - they work extremely hard, and it's the most talented team I've ever been on ... by far. It means a lot, when I come out here and see how hard the guys are working together, as a family, because that's what we are.

"When you have that combination, it's pretty powerful."