Brooks Come smile with me
BillyC did you hack into DeShazier's computer and write this.
Come Smile With Me
By John DeShazier
The smile is deceptive.
Win or lose, touchdown or interception, it's there.
But the last impression Aaron Brooks wants to give is that his megawatt smile means he's oblivious to the circumstances or, worse, that he simply doesn't care.
But he might not always show it in a way people would consider proper.
"What I'm doing out on the football field is what I've done all my life," said Brooks, who will mark his third season as the Saints' starting quarterback when they play the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. "Whether it's good or bad, there's always a communication I've had with players or coaches to understand what has happened. (You) shake it off or laugh about the situation, like, 'We messed up, and we know it.'
"It's like that leadership deal. I think it's gotten to the point where it got overblown because if you look at my play on the field, I don't think anyone can doubt that I'm one of the hardest-working players on the team and I'm one of the players that wants to win the most."
Win, and the world smiles with you. Lose, and the going isn't so pleasant. And Brooks has seen both sides of the coin.
The Saints were 9-7 last season. Though they faltered in the final three games -- spirit-breaking, soul-searching losses -- there have been just five more successful regular seasons in franchise history.
Brooks' play similarly plummeted with the team's swoon.
Dogged by an injured right (throwing) shoulder that required offseason surgery, his completion percent dived from 63.6 (21 for 33 against Minnesota) to 42.1 (16 for 38 vs. Cincinnati) to 38.7 (12 for 31 against Carolina). Yards dwindled from 255 to 205 to 145, his quarterback rating sunk from 107.5 to 68.2 to 26.9 and the touchdown passes dried up -- from two to one to none.
Still, in two seasons he has become one of the most productive players in team history. He owns the top two single-season marks for touchdown passes (27 last season and 26 in 2001), the third- and fifth-best totals for passing yards (3,832 in '01 and 3,572 last season) and the third-most games of at least 250 passing yards (16). He became the third quarterback in league history to beat the defending Super Bowl champion (St. Louis) in his first career start.
Last season, Brooks, who holds team single-game records in passing yards (441) and rushing yards (108) by a quarterback, completed 283 of 528 passes and had 15 interceptions.
Acceptance comes slowly
But, while he tied for the NFC lead last year in touchdown passes, started the only playoff win in franchise history and is the first NFL quarterback to have a 400-yard passing game and a 100-yard rushing game in the same year (2000), total acceptance has been slow.
"He had a very good year," said middle linebacker Darrin Smith, an 11-year veteran who has played in 13 playoff games and owns two Super Bowl rings. "If you look at the numbers, he was very outstanding. I just think that, maybe unfairly, people assume that he's going to have the perfect game every time, which is very difficult to do.
"You always have to have all cylinders. You can't just win with the quarterback. There were a lot of times that we just didn't play as a whole team, times where the offense was rolling and Aaron was having a good game (and the defense faltered). Games like that, he has great performances and gets overshadowed."
Fans pleaded for backup Jake Delhomme during the stretch drive/dive last year. In 2001, veteran Jeff Blake, whom Brooks replaced in 2000 when Blake suffered a season-ending foot injury, lurked over his shoulder, providing an attractive (but unused) alternative during a 7-9 season.
"That's been a tough situation to deal with," he said. "Although at the time I was young (24 years old when he entered the lineup in 2000), I still felt like I was being underappreciated in terms of what I've done and what I'm trying to get accomplished here.
"I think what we've done as a football team, we brought life back into New Orleans Saints football. I'm proud of that fact. But for people to throw it back in my face, to say I'm not worthy (he signed a six-year, $36 million contract extension before last season) and to compare me to other things, I thought it was unfair. I couldn't get wrapped up into that because I knew what I was doing was right.
"(But) it hurt. I came up being unappreciated . . . within the sports world. I was always being overshadowed and I don't use that as an excuse, I use it as a motivational tool. From high school, with Allen Iverson being the No. 1 point guard in the country and winning the state championship in football. Then once I get to college, I had to work and battle my way for the starting job, and word that Ronald Curry is coming up.
"I get to the professional league, I go to Green Bay and people thought I'd get lost in the shuffle, and here my cousin comes out of nowhere and electrifies the whole NFL. So, I've always been on the back burner.
"But here I felt I had a place to show what I could do, and I don't think it ever came out from others like I felt it should have. But it's coming. It's getting better. I'm more mature, I'm proud, I'm happy, I'm glad of who I am and what I've accomplished."
The Aaron Brooks who made his Saints debut in relief against Oakland on Nov. 19, 2000, isn't comparable to the Aaron Brooks of today.
He's bigger, still listed as a 6-foot-4, 205-pounder, but more muscular and defined than the rail-thin quarterback the Saints traded for July 31, 2000.
Getting a handle on things
He's more mature, more willing and able to move on from negatives, more reliant on the spiritual background that has been instilled in him.
"I probably harped on some things that I shouldn't have," he said. "I always felt like I was thick-skinned because I motivate myself, and I'm very critical of myself. Therefore, a lot of times I felt like I didn't need people to over-criticize what I was doing, because I was making the changes myself. Trying to explain myself and justify myself, people wanted to see it done one way and I was doing it the other way. It's always a fine line."
Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, who has been there from Brooks' first day with the Saints to help refine the raw talent, agreed.
"That's something I think anybody goes through in this business," McCarthy said. "I don't think he's handled it terribly but I agree with him, I think he could have handled it better. But just like anything else, you've got to go through it.
"To sit there and tell someone what's going to happen and try to prepare them is one thing, but until he actually goes through the process, a guy can (then) say, 'Now I know what you're talking about.' He's definitely a lot better in that area."
He's a more confident player.
"He seems to have a different swagger," Smith said. "You can feel something different about him. You can almost see the maturity that he's developing now. I think he's more active as a leader, I think he's accepting that responsibility whether he wants to or not. I think he's realizing that as a quarterback, that's his role.
"I really see some good things from him, and I can see that coming the whole year. It's really becoming natural to him. He's still a young guy, (and) it's really hard when you come into a situation like he came into his first year, a guy injured and he played. Everybody just assumed that he was a mature guy. But you can see a whole different type of confidence in him now."
Said McCarthy: "It's normal in young quarterbacks. We talk at length a lot about what you want to hold on to from your earlier days and what you want to let go. When he was a young quarterback he just played with a fearlessness, he was so competitive. Now, he's so much more experienced, he does such a great job pretty much thinking his way around the field. There's no panic in his play, he sees things so much more clearly, his anticipation is so much better.
"That's part of the maturation of a quarterback. With his experience he's gained that, but you kind of want to hold on to that fearlessness, that raw ability to jump out there and make the uncommon play that he has done time and time again in his short career."
And Brooks has changed in another area. Brooks married college sweetheart Tisa Parker this summer.
"It opened me up a lot," he said. "Getting married is the best thing that's happened to me. I tell people that. I've got to be very, very organized in my life, and I don't think I would have gotten as stable without having a beautiful wife at my side. She has slowed me down a lot -- not that I was a hothead or living the fast life."
Hothead? Judging by Brooks' demeanor, his pulse rate, even while being chased by a 290-pound defensive end or slammed into by a 330-pound defensive tackle, rarely registers above a resting state.
Productive from the start
That cool reeled in teammates, when the unproven youngster entered the lineup and won three of his first five regular-season games before engineering the playoff victory over St. Louis.
Maybe, that was his biggest sin.
Brooks played so well, so early, that expectations were bound to soar. With seven starts to his credit -- five regular-season and two playoff games -- he entered 2001 wearing the mantle of franchise quarterback. But 22 interceptions that season nearly countered his 26 touchdowns.
Last season, by most accounts, was a breakout year. Other than a completion percentage of .536, the numbers were more than solid all around.
The Saints' offense has been centered on him for most of his 39 starts, and shows few signs of easing on the reliance.
"Everything kind of revolves around him being a leader for the team and he's definitely grown into that role," said center Jerry Fontenot, the only NFL center Brooks has taken a snap from.
"Coming in, trying to learn the offense, he's comfortable with it (and) he knows what the adjustments are and what all the checks are," Fontenot said. "Our offense feels like he's a game-breaker. So as long as we protect him, as long as we make him feel like he can trust us to be there whenever he needs us, it's all good.
"I think that he's turned into a very good quarterback, one of the best in the league. Now, it's just a matter of going out and making sure that he's comfortable with what we're doing for him so that he can be his most effective."
As for Brooks' early success, Fontenot said, "That was reality. What he was doing was what he was doing. We've always got high expectations for that position. The biggest difference is that first year, I don't think he relied on his arm as much as he did his legs. Now, he's relying on his arm more, which is really what you want a quarterback to do. I think he's doing a great job of balancing the two.
"If we get everybody on the offense on the same page, he will definitely be the guy to break out."
Problem is, Brooks isn't looking for a breakout year as much as he covets a breakout career.
"I think there's more to come," he said. "A goal of mine has always been to get 30 touchdowns or more. My completion percentage, I'd like it to be higher. I look at Brett Favre's stat sheet -- he has 11, 12 years of 3,000 yards and 20-something touchdowns. That's a goal that I'd like to achieve, or even better. That's consistency.
"Thirty-five touchdowns and 4,000 yards, that's a breakout year. But what are you going to do the next year? And is that another breakout year? I always strive for consistency."
If he hits that mark, the wins won't likely be far behind.
And neither will the smiles.
. . . . . . .
John DeShazier can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3410.
[Edited on 9/6/2003 by saint5221]
Brooks Come smile with me
I\'ll be happy to see him smile about thirty times this season: one for every TD.
Brooks Come smile with me
I tell you what -- When the games on the line ,with time winding down -- there ain\'t too many QB\'s I would rather have back there than Aaron Brooks.
I, like many others, have watched Aaron since day one. We\'ve watched him work his magic and we\'ve watched him screw it up at times. Like most great QB\'s he\'s had to endure his fair (or unfair) share of crticizm from the fans and media.
I really look for this to be Aaron\'s breakout year. Well, not that last year wasn\'t when you consider he threw for league leading 27-TD passes. But, he should come into is own this year.
It all starts tomorrow at Seattle and I feel very comfortable with Brooks under center. I\'ll be pulling for Brooks as much as anyone and hopefully after this year, Aaron will get the respect that he deserves.
Go buy your Aaron Brooks\' jerseys all you Brooks bashers and pretend you\'ve been a Brooks supporter from day one, because he\'s going to light it up this year. Pro Bowl baybee :P :P :P :P
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