Niners Live continues to push the narrative of objective optimism while examining the SAM linebacker role of Ahmad Brooks and his importance in the defensive plans of Robert Saleh.
What we already know
The 49ers need players to step up now, young or old and at many positions, especially on defense. One of those many positions is strong-side (SAM) linebacker, currently filled by Ahmad Brooks. But Brooks has high mileage on his body and is on the backend of his career at age 33 after ten NFL seasons. He also has the added pressure of hearing he’ll lose his starting job (as he has the past three seasons). This means he will have to compete to keep his job/roster spot. Bottom line is, yes, he’ll need to prove himself and again show he deserves the starting job.
Despite all those things, and again in typical “dawg” fashion (yes Ahmad Brooks is about the biggest dawg on this defense along with NaVorro Bowman), he’ll do just that.
Ahmad Brooks is the oldest, most experienced, and most productive strong-side (SAM) linebacker on the 49ers roster, and simply put, he deserves the first crack at the spot. He’ll need to be beaten out to change that. General Manager John Lynch has stressed defense and made it a point to bolster the talent and depth on defense. Unfortunately, he’s yet to find a comparable replacement (decent rotational players though) worthy of unseating the savvy veteran. When at his best, Brooks makes plays in run support, stuffing the ball carrier by shooting and filling gaps and even running players down from behind. Most importantly and most needed, he can terrorize quarterbacks as he did in this short video.
Why Ahmad Brooks
Seeing as how there’s been more than enough negativity linked to the 49ers and their terrible 2016 run defense, let’s put a positive spin on things. The question should read, Why not Ahmad Brooks? In case you’re scratching your head, stay with me and the fog should clear shortly. In his 10 NFL seasons (133 games, 98 starts) Ahmad Brooks has accounted for 290 tackles, 53.5 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and three interceptions (one for a 50-yard touchdown). Although the 2016 (49ers ranked last in team defense and rush defense) season was one everyone would like to soon forget, Brooks managed to accumulate 53 tackles (41 of which were solo), a forced fumble, and he even tied rookie defensive end Deforest Buckner for the team lead in sacks with six on the season.
Ahmad Brooks can very well meet and exceed his 2016 numbers, but he’ll have to overcome his age and also have to adapt to a new position at SAM linebacker in the 4-3 under scheme of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The seasoned linebacker will be playing closer to the line of scrimmage where he’ll be lined up in a 9 tech (outside of the strong side 5 tech defensive end and tight end, also known as the D gap). From this SAM position, he will have the responsibility of setting the edge and forcing the play back into the middle of the front-seven. Names like NaVorro Bowman (middle linebacker), Elvis Dumervil (LEO), Deforest Buckner (weak side defensive tackle), and Reuben Foster (weak side linebacker) will be pursuing from the backside with a full head of steam trying to beat each other to the football attempting to knock chinstraps loose. Now picture that for a moment, and look forward to seeing it every game, every snap. I don’t care who you are, that’s a bad day for the ball carrier.
On a Niners Live side note: The addition of Elvis Dumervil was previously discussed in 49ers: With the Arrival of Elvis Dumervil; Who’s In? Who’s Out?
Think about it, neither defensive lineman can be blocked one on one and will require double teams, so somebody on the defensive line will be running free along with the linebackers beating/shedding blocks, and shooting gaps. Okay, got carried away, let’s get back on track. Ahmad Brooks will also have to control the edge as a containment player on the strong side preventing the play from bouncing outside of him. In addition, he’ll be required to play coverage and run with the tight end in coverage when playing man. When in zone, he’ll be responsible for the shallow zones and the flats as well. Luckily, with his skillset, he can do it.
If anybody can overcome odds facing age and a new position to play at max potential in hopes to return to his 2013 Pro Bowl form, it’s Ahmad Brooks. According to reports, head Coach Kyle Shanahan stated the following about the former Pro Bowler. “He’s getting them (first-team repetitions) because he deserves them. “Watching how he played last year and then going into this offseason, you never know when a guy who has been around a bunch, if they’re going to feel that they need the offseason like other people do. And Ahmad’s been here every day and he’s needed it just like everyone has anytime you’re learning a new scheme (via Matt Maiocco).
The reasonable expectations
Taking a moment to be objective, with the new look defense and new position it’ll take some time to see and produce at max potential and results. There will also be growing pains, but before too long everything should come together just fine. The right effort from himself, the other 10 players on defense, and coaching, it won’t be long before the quality product is shown on the field from Ahmad and the defense as a unit. As seen in this video clip, Ahmad Brooks normally lined up on the strong side of the offensive formation, and does so with dominance. Brooks has lined up with his hand in the ground as a pass rusher from the defensive end spot and at outside linebacker, as well. He uses the speed rush technique to quickly shoot around the edge to put instant pressure on the quarterback from wherever he’s lined up. Though SAM linebacker is a new position for him, it won’t be unfamiliar. Both Ahmad and this defense have the potential to be great, and I can’t wait to watch it all develop. Go Niners!
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Kevin Mitchell Staff Writer at Niners Live. Co-Author, Editor NinersLive.