Chances are that you haven’t seen any footage of Ron Brooks this offseason. The Buffalo Bills cornerback doesn’t flood social media with videos of himself bench-pressing and running sprints.
He doesn’t mingle with the enemy, either. Whereas many NFL players train with rivals at multimillion-dollar complexes – pushing each other, yet also cozying up for an Instagram photo op – this Buffalo Bills cornerback trains alone back home in Dallas.
“Not to say I don’t like people but I go about working and do my business,” Brooks said. “I talk to everybody and I have a good time with everybody and laugh and joke and play. But when it comes time to work, I’m going to work. For me, I have ADHD. So when I have people around me, I like to talk and do extracurricular stuff.
“When it’s just me by myself, I don’t have anybody else to focus on but myself.”
And this summer, he realizes his pro career reaches a crossroad.
For four seasons at LSU and three more in Buffalo, Brooks has been a super sub. A back-up. Champing at the bit for more snaps. The feisty 5-foot-10, 192-pound 2012 fourth-round pick fought for scraps behind Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu in college and now finds himself doing the same thing in Buffalo.
After totaling 34 tackles (30 solo) and one pass break-up last season, Brooks now has even more competition in second-round pick Ronald Darby. Nobody in the Bills secondary knows the value of every snap like Brooks.
“To be honest with you, this is the final year of my contract,” he said. “So I’m going up with everything I’ve got. I’m going to try to solidify myself in Buffalo – for at least a little while longer. If not Buffalo, somewhere else. And just try to go out and showcase myself. Show what I can do.”
Brooks has the kind of game that endears himself to fans in Western New York. Pound for pound, he might be the most physical defensive back in run support. Patriots tight end Tim Wright might still be stinging from Brooks’ vicious right shoulder in the 2014 regular-season finale. Brooks was fined, but the hit further hinted that’s the type of violence he brings.
This after it appeared Brooks’ career might be over, too.
Earlier in the season, Brooks tripped, flipped vertical and his head bounced off the Ford Field turf. An immobilized Brooks was carted off the field and taken to the hospital. He wanted to return … that game. As the cart whisked him away, Brooks told teammates he’d return.
“I didn’t break anything,” Brooks said. “So I told them, ‘I’ll be back, man!’ But I ended up going to the hospital. I was scared more than anything. With my neck, if I was injured, I didn’t want to cause any further injury. They scanned me and it shocked my system, really.”
He practiced the following Wednesday and played on Sunday.
Several times, Brooks cites his physicality. Coach Rex Ryan must be a fan of his toughness, his willingness to take on a 230-pound running back.
Problem is, time’s running out. Brooks also hasn’t made a lot of plays on the ball in the pros. Entering Year Four, he’s still searching for interception No. 1. And word is, coaches are already extremely high on Darby. It’s on Brooks, still mired in the clutter, to prove he’s worthy of a role in what could be one of the NFL’s best defenses.
He must channel frustration into fuel.
“As a player,” Brooks said, “you’re not always going to have everything go your way. You always have to know that. You’re going to have adversity and things you need to fight through. And everybody’s situation is not going to be the same. I wasn’t a first-rounder, you know? You might not have as much publicity as other people did. But you just have to take advantage of the opportunity that you have at that time.
“I have to step in and show what I can do. Show my talent.”
So what should people know about him? What suggests Brooks could break through?
At LSU, cornerbacks one-upped each other every day. Look to the bayou, he says.
“In the swamp, man,” Brooks said. “Playing alongside the guys that I played with, I feel like we all pushed each other every day and we elevate each other’s play during practice and the game. … If you don’t have a competitive group of guys, I don’t think you have the right guys in the room. It was like that when I was at LSU and it’s like that now in Buffalo.”
Peterson was a fifth overall pick and is now arguably the best cornerback in the game. Claiborne was the sixth overall pick the next year. Mathieu was named to the Pro Football Writers’ All-Rookie team in 2013.
Brooks has tracked their progression and now hopes to truly establish himself.
So all through July in Dallas, back at his old high school fields, he’s been ripping through drills in the 100-degree heat. Footwork has been the emphasis this summer. Brooks believes he’s still developing as a cornerback, still learning.
All along, memories resurface. Brooks is taken back to a time when he did star as an unstoppable dual-threat quarterback at MacArthur High School. He thinks back to the game against South Grand Prairie when he threw an interception, chased the player down and stole the ball right back.
He thinks back to his sophomore year when he was the backup quarterback to his cousin. Brooks got the nod at the end of a blowout and ran a sweep for an 87-yard touchdown.
“It definitely humbles you,” Brooks said, “and takes you back for a minute.”
And, technically, he’s not alone when he trains. Brooks is often joined by his dad, Anthony Brooks, who played college football at Texas A&M Commerce and one year in the NFL with the Chicago Bears. Ron was an offensive player who switched to defense; Anthony was a defensive stud who switched to offense. So on the field, Dad will run an array of routes against his son.
Son claims he shuts him down, too.
“He’ll tell you different,” Brooks said, “but I don’t think he has the jukes anymore.
“He’s no stranger to the game and no stranger to hard work. It helps having somebody who played at this level and has insight into this game.”
Soon, the competition at cornerback begins. As defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman noted in the spring, the Bills are strong at a premium position. Starters Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin, as well as nickel back Nickell Robey, in addition to Darby, are solid.
“When you look at the group as a whole,” Thurman said, “there’s talent there.”
Asked about Ryan’s scheme, Brooks is quick to point out that Ryan and Thurman inherited what was already a Top 5 unit. Nearly everyone returns again to work with a third staff in three years. As a cheap fourth or fifth cornerback, there’s a good chance Brooks makes the team again.
Pouring sweat by the bucket in Dallas, however, he’s aiming for more.
“Right now, I’m pushing myself,” he said. “I’m trying to get myself mentally prepared and physically prepared to do what I need to do.”