Buffalo Bills Training Camp Sleepers: CB Ron Brooks

This upcoming 2014 NFL season is an extremely important one for the Buffalo Bills. Following Ralph Wilson’s death, questions surrounding the team’s future have been non-stop. The Bills’ roster finally has come together with enough talent to make quite a few analysts believe that the team could finally get over the hump into the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

While the talent and potential of the players on the roster exists, a large number of unheralded sophomore and third-year players will be taking on large roles for the team.

In the coming days, I’ll be taking a look at a few young players that could see a bigger role than most expect with the 2014 Buffalo Bills.

CB Ron Brooks

The Bills selected Ron Brooks in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of LSU, where he made just three starts sitting behind three of the best defensive backs in the nation, in Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu. While only making three starts, Brooks appeared in 53 games, recording 90 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 10 pass deflections, picking off three passes and forcing five fumbles.

In college, Brooks’ speed and physicality earned him a role as a rotational slot cornerback that would blitz out of zone coverages.

When drafted, Brooks was expected to compete for playing time in the slot, but while Brooks’ 4.37 40-yard dash was one of the fastest of the 2012 cornerbacks, his 7.23 second three-cone and 4.56 shuttle time hindered his ability to keep pace with quick twitch wide receivers.

Brooks missed seven games with a foot injury in his rookie season, and couldn’t climb up the depth chart in 2013, as undrafted rookie Nickell Robey solidified himself as the No. 1 nickel corner. In Mike Pettine’s aggressive scheme, Robey was a great fit due to his speed off the edge and his ability to play man coverage in the slot. Now, with Jim Schwartz installing his more traditional 4-3 scheme, a player like Ron Brooks, who is at his best with the play in front of him, could be a better fit systematically.

During the offseason, the Bills brought in veteran cornerback Corey Graham, in order to bolster the depth of the roster, but it was interesting that Robey’s name was rarely mentioned by the coaching staff with regards to nickel cornerback.

Last week, Schwartz brought up Brooks unprovoked when discussing the cornerback position, stating that he had a “great” series of practices in OTAs and minicamp, while BuffaloBills.com’s Lead Journalist Chris Brown listed Brooks as his No. 1 OTA performer, stating

With starting cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Leodis held out of the team portions of practice for the majority of the practices, Brooks has been the starting right corner. The third-year corner, whose career thus far has been compromised by injury, performed very well in the OTA setting. He frequently got his hands in the passing lanes to force incompletions and logged an interception. One of his pass breakups also led to another INT by one of his teammates.

Potential Role

Ron Brooks has limited experience both in college and with the Bills, but considering the shaky situation at the safety position, there’s a possibility that he could be tried out at free safety. Physically, Brooks is overmatched at the boundary cornerback position due to his size disadvantage, despite having the long-speed necessary to keep pace with the prototypical “No. 2” receivers.

However, he’s also at a disadvantage when playing in the slot, because he lacks the agility and the ability to change direction with shifty slot receivers.

The safeties in Jim Schwartz’ defenses are “interchangeable” to an extent, but Brooks would be the ideal player to play in Cover 1 or Cover 3 shells, where he’d line up in “centerfield.” He’s at his best in zone coverage, where he play is in front of him, so in theory, the move would allow him to make plays with his speed by break on crossing routes.

Final Words

There’s definitely no guarantee that Brooks will take on a big role with the 2014 defense, but for a relatively inexperienced cornerback heading into a make-or-break third season, he’s a player that could open eyes in training camp.