49ers unleash Brooks
SANTA CLARA – The San Francisco 49ers finally unleashed Ahmad Brooks, and the result was a takeaway festival unlike the team has seen for more than a decade.
“It was time to let the dog loose,” Brooks said this week. “I’ve been in my cage for a while, so I think it was time to just let me go and show the world what I’m capable of doing.”
The fourth-year linebacker got that opportunity on a national stage Monday night, and he responded with three sacks and two forced fumbles during the 49ers’ 24-9 upset of defending NFC champion Arizona.
The havoc created by Brooks on the edge of San Francisco’s 3-4 defense helped the 49ers force seven Arizona turnovers, the most takeaways by the team in a game since 1997.
Brooks made life miserable for Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, stripping him of the football twice and also hitting him twice in addition to the three sacks.
Brooks entered the game with four career sacks, two of which came earlier this season after he finally was worked into the rotation at outside linebacker after being inactive for the season’s first two games.
He has added juice to a San Francisco pass rush that has climbed to 11th in the NFL in sacks per play. Despite playing a situational role behind starting outside linebackers Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson, Brooks is second on the team in sacks behind Lawson’s 5.5.
“We’re very excited about the possibilities of what he can do, and what he did the other night is just scratching the surface,” 49ers coach Mike Singletary said.
Brooks is new to this pass-rusher thing. He had spent his entire career as a middle linebacker before the 49ers decided to move him to the outside at the end of last season to take advantage of his size, power and speed.
The 49ers also wanted to get his talent onto the field. Brooks didn’t play one snap last year in his first season with the team.
A third-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2006 supplemental draft, Brooks started five games at middle linebacker as a rookie but was waived by the Bengals at the final roster cutdown last year.
That was a humbling experience for Brooks, a highly touted prospect coming out of college, but he vowed to take advantage of his second chance with the 49ers.
“Patience is a virtue, and I’ve been very patient and continuing to practice my craft,” Brooks said. “And everything is paying off right now.”
With Brooks leading the charge, the 49ers sacked Warner four times, hit him on five other occasions and also intercepted him twice. San Francisco also forced seven Arizona fumbles, recovering five of them.
The 49ers (6-7) will be looking for another strong effort from their defense Sunday when they travel to Philadelphia (9-4) to face the NFC East leaders. And that will require a strong pass rush to stay in the face of quarterback Donovan McNabb to keep the Eagles’ explosive offense out of rhythm.
Brooks has earned a regular role now in that pass rush. He has four sacks in San Francisco’s past two games.
“He has ability,” defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “Ahmad has a lot of physical skills. We made the decision this past offseason to move him strictly to that position and it has benefited him. If we can just hone those skills like we did last week and keep getting better each and every game and every practice, the sky is the limit for the guy.”
Brooks said there’s no turning back after his eye-opening performance against the Cardinals. It told him a few things about his ability that even he didn’t know.
“Maybe the light went on this past week,” Brooks said. “I learned that I can be a dominant player. I learned that I can change the game. So now I’m even more hungrier to just go out there and try and get as many sacks as I can.”
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