Rookie Punter Brooks Is Hanging Tough Thus Far
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Two weeks ago, Redskins rookie Durant Brooks phoned his mentor, retired star punter Ray Guy, before making his NFL debut in the Hall of Fame game. Brooks ended up leaving a voice-mail message, but there is little doubt many legends will be watching him this weekend, his pal Guy among them.
Most of the football world will be tuning in to Washington's game against the New York Jets tonight to see future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre's debut with his new team. That nationwide interest means Brooks, 23, again will be auditioning for a job on a grand stage, which is precisely how his coaches like it.
When the Redskins selected Brooks (6 feet, 200 pounds) out of Georgia Tech in the sixth round of April's draft, they had no concerns about his size and leg strength. All of the quantifiable characteristics were there.
The true test would be if the youngster was mentally fortified to punt professionally, able to handle the responsibility that comes with being part of a billion-dollar franchise. Brooks came through admirably in his first opportunity two weeks ago and is slated for every punt against the Jets after incumbent Derrick Frost fared well last week against Buffalo.
"I call it executing under pressure," special teams coach Danny Smith said. "It's a factor for all of these athletes. You have to execute under pressure. The punter we have, it's going to be a guy we trust. That's going to be the key. After these five [preseason] games, Jim and I will sit down, and it's got to be a guy he can trust."
Smith and head coach Jim Zorn have tried to rattle Brooks during his first training camp. They study his expressions in practices and games, seeing if he looks awed by his surroundings. Thus far, he has done nothing but impress.
"It's how he carries himself," Zorn said. "Is he into the game? Is he talking to himself? When you look into his eyes, does he have that hollow, I call it the fish look, with the mouth agape and the eyes staring? I haven't seen that in either one of these punters."
Sometimes, it seems as if Brooks may not even grasp the weight of it all, his aw-shucks nature and naivete working to his advantage. He's happy-go-lucky and eager to please. Brooks had to rein himself in a bit at the Hall of Fame game, booting his first punt too deep, plopping it into the end zone when he should have pinned Indianapolis inside the 20-yard line.
But after those jitters he kicked well, exhibiting the hang time Smith covets and an ability to place the ball where he wants it.
"I think it went pretty well," Brooks said. "I've got a lot to work on, obviously, but for my first game in the NFL, somebody asked me how I'd grade myself, and I said B, B-minus. I think I did some good things."
Consistency must be the rule for Brooks. Frost has been erratic in his three prior seasons in Washington, fluctuating in effectiveness within the same game at times, and watching his efficiency wane in the latter half of seasons in general.
"I've looked really good at times, and I've looked below average at times," Frost said.