August 8, 2008

James Brooks: 'It's go time'

Watching defensive end standouts Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez every day in practice and in film sessions, James Brooks said he couldn't help but learn a lot about playing the position during his redshirt season at Arizona State.

Now, he's decided to put that apprenticeship learned into action.

"Coming out of spring ball, I was still was kind of slow off the ball, still was kind of tall, just high school mode," Brooks said. "But now it's go time. I have no excuses. Coach (Grady Stretz) is on me hard and I told him I want it. I want to be pushed and I'm working hard every day to get better."

Brooks is currently working as the second-team left defensive end, behind Vasquez, and he's had a stellar showing through the first four practices of camp.

"Luis has been teaching me since the first day I got here," Brooks said. "He's been a big help. We're great friends off the field, we hang out. He's been a big key for me with learning and growing.

Dex (Davis) has also been huge. "He is just a prototype skill guy. You learn from his quickness and the way he plays, the intensity and you're going to be a great player. All his technique-stuff is down perfect. Just his ability to get off blocks, the little things like that you watch and take mental reps and it really helps you."

Coming out of Flagstaff High School, it was immediately clear upon Brooks' arrival in Tempe last summer that he had the physical tools to compete at a very high level. The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder is huge and athletic, with great burst and open field speed for a man his size. An off-season spent honing his physique and his mindset, Brooks said, has led to significant gains.

"I really had a great summer," Brooks said. "Ben Hilgart, our strength coach did a great job really pushing us hard in the weight room. I lost about 15 pounds but I got a lot stronger and I feel like it's really showing out here. (Grady) Stretz wanted me around 270 pounds and I wanted to lose about 15 so I'd be quicker and faster out here after I weighed nearly 285 in spring ball, and it's really worked. I'm moving some guys around, [better with] more technical stuff, my hands are getting better. It's just great."

Brooks is practicing with much-improved pad level and greater consistency with his effort.

"It's like coach Stretz preaches, leverage is key, footwork, getting low," Brooks said. "When you can get under a guy, you're going to be stronger than him no matter how big, how strong he is. I'm just working on getting low, playing with leverage and then once I get on the edge I think I'm fast enough, athletic enough to beat any tackle.

"I've still got minor things to work on but I think the intensity is up. I'm going full speed every play running to the ball. It's a big change from the spring. No more loafing, no more sloppy plays. With that and playing with a better pad level, I feel really good about where I'm at and now I just have to keep working hard on the small things."

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