Tampa's Brooks is NFL's best
Published: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 12:30 a.m.
Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks is the crown jewel of the NFL's best defense and easily topped Miami end Jason Taylor for The Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year award Wednesday.
Voting for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year:
Brooks, TB 36
Taylor, Miami 11
Dawkins, Phil. 1
The Buccaneers' star has been one of pro football's best linebackers almost since he broke into the league in 1995. But teammates Warren Sapp and John Lynch often drew more attention, and Sapp won the award in 1999.
There was no ignoring Brooks this year. He led his team in tackles (170) for the fifth consecutive year and led the NFL with three interception returns for TDs. His four TDs on turnovers tied for second most in a single season in league history.
Brooks also had career highs in interceptions (five) and passes defensed (15).
So was the award overdue?
''You can say that, but I'm going to be positive and say it's the right time for me to win it,'' Brooks said Wednesday. ''Hopefully this can be done in a championship year. I just feel kind of funny. It's really, in my opinion, a team award.''
Brooks' team allowed 196 points, 45 fewer than any other team, in winning the NFC South with a 12-4 record. It ranked first in overall defense and against the pass and had 31 interceptions, six better than any other team.
And nobody played a bigger role than Brooks, an eight-year veteran who received 36 votes from a nationwide panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL.
That easily outdistanced Taylor, who led the league with 18¶ sacks. Taylor got 11 votes, while Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins earned the only other vote. Last year's winner was Giants end Michael Strahan.
Brooks has ''been more than deserving for years. He's always been the heart and soul of our team,'' said Sapp, who also had a strong year. ''It always takes us a while to find the great ones. They're kind of hidden, especially when he has a mouth like me beside him all that time. ... He's just an unassuming, businesslike professional who goes to work every day.''
Brooks takes his role as a team leader very seriously. Making big plays is one thing. Being available to guide teammates through the season is just as important.
Brooks makes a habit of discussing the Tampa defense with anyone who is interested.
''I try to know everything there is to know about this defense,'' Brooks said. ''I can answer a question from a cornerback, a linebacker, a lineman. I learn it, I know it. I talk to the secondary coach, I talk to the line coach, just to be prepared.
''You never know in a ballgame, in a crucial situation, a lineman may look at me and need an answer to a question. I have to answer it right there, because the ball is being snapped.''
There actually was some doubt about how effective a pro Brooks would be when he came out of Florida State after an All-America career. He went 28th in the first round because some scouts thought he was too light and short.
But at 6 feet and 235 pounds, Brooks is as effective in pass coverage as any linebacker in the last decade. And no one at his position is more adept against the run, regardless of size.
''He's just a complete football player,'' Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. ''He can go sideline to sideline. He can play physical. He's like a big, physical middle linebacker who can go sideline to sideline. He plays pass defense, can cover.
''With all that, he's got the great attitude. He loves football.''
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