September 6, 2018

Mic’hael Brooks relishes his role against the run

When it comes to Mic’hael Brooks’ role with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, beauty truly is in the eyes of the beholder.

Brooks has what many would consider to be one of the least glamorous jobs on the CFL team. As a run-stuffer, he’s always battling in the trenches in hopes of limiting the gains of opposing rushers.

But Roughriders head coach-GM Chris Jones — whose team was gouged along the ground by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Sunday’s Labour Day Classic — doesn’t believe Brooks’ job is at all unattractive.

“It’s very glamorous to me,” Jones said after Thursday’s practice at Mosaic Stadium. “We gave up 190 yards the other night when he wasn’t in there.

“He’s a guy who has been very instrumental in the success that we’ve had against the run. If he goes back in and can help get 33 (Winnipeg tailback Andrew Harris) on the ground, it’s going to be a very glamorous role for him.”

Brooks was injured and didn’t play in Saskatchewan’s 31-23 victory over the Bombers in Sunday’s Labour Day Classic. Without the 6-foot-3, 295-pounder in the middle of the D-line, Harris had 158 of the Bombers’ 193 rushing yards in the contest.

Jones wasn’t impressed, telling the media after the game that the Roughriders weren’t in their proper gaps to control Harris. Earlier this week, Jones said the defence had somebody assigned to Harris on every play — and the Bombers’ star still went off.

The hope is that Brooks will help limit Harris in Saturday’s rematch in Winnipeg (2 p.m., CKRM, TSN).

“He’s a very good run defender,” Jones said of Brooks, a 27-year-old product of Durham, N.C. “He’s a big guy (and) he’s experienced in the league. When we’ve had him in there in the past, he has been able to do some very good things.”

Not surprisingly, Brooks is ready to try to do those things again.

“I was sick on the sideline (Sunday) knowing that they got me here to help with the run,” he said. “I’m just glad I got healthy and I can play this week so we can stop them.”

Brooks is a product of the East Carolina University Pirates, whose defensive line during his time at the school produced two NFL draft picks (C.J. Wilson and Linval Joseph) and three players who signed free-agent contracts in that league (Brooks, Jay Ross and Scotty Robinson).

Brooks wasn’t a run-stuffer in those days — “We were an up-the-field type of D-line … We were kind of playing the run on the way to the passer,” he said with a chuckle — but he evolved into that as his pro career continued.

Knowing what the job entails certainly helped.

“(A good run-stuffer is) somebody who’s willing to be selfless,” Brooks said. “Sometimes you’ve got to take on two offensive linemen to let a linebacker come through and make a play. If you’ve got to do that and you want to do that, that makes an effective run-stopper.”

But isn’t that role difficult to accept? After all, getting double-teamed or being hit from all sides in the pile can’t be as thrilling as the life of a pass-rushing specialist who gets all the glory after sacking a quarterback.

“It is (tough), but when you make a play out of that double-team, it’s a great feeling,” Brooks said. “Me, Zack (Evans), Eddie (Steele) and Big Mak (Henry), we do that a lot …

“(The position) kind of is (unglamorous), but when you make plays, your teammates recognize it and they keep you upbeat and they show you the love,” Brooks added. “As long as we’re winning and as long as we’re doing our jobs, it’ll be all right.”

Brooks can trace his work in the trenches back to his childhood.

His mom is a teacher and he said her influence helped him create a routine that was a key component in him honing his technique as a defensive lineman.

“It’s about the discipline,” Brooks said. “She made me sit down and do certain things, so now, even when things get boring or tedious, I’ve got that discipline to keep going.”

After graduating from East Carolina, Brooks signed as an undrafted free agent with the Detroit Lions in May of 2013. When the Lions waived him later that month, he was claimed by the Seattle Seahawks.

He played in one game for Seattle during the 2013 regular season, but spent the majority of the campaign on the practice squad. Even so, he was with the Seahawks when they won the Super Bowl with a 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos on Feb. 2, 2014.

Brooks was released by Seattle in September of 2014 and signed with the B.C. Lions in April of 2015. After being named a West Division all-star in 2015, he played two more seasons with the Lions before being released in May of this year.

He signed with the Roughriders on June 24 and was immediately plugged into the interior of their D-line, where he has recorded seven tackles in seven games.

Brooks has been flashing back this season to his time with the Seahawks who, he has said, taught him how to win. He sees a lot of similarities between Seattle and Saskatchewan.

“Everybody here is on a mission,” Brooks said. “They have their own personal mission that keeps the team focused.

“I feel like we’re just getting started. I felt this way in Seattle when we went on our Super Bowl run. We caught a groove and we got a rhythm — and we’re in that now.”