6-21-04, 7:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Greg Brooks, one of the 11 draft picks who all may make the Opening Day roster, couldn't resist.
As the Bengals walked off the field for the last time before training camp last Friday, the cornerback from Southern Mississippi asked head coach Marvin Lewis how he was doing.
Hey, why not? The kid already has a rep and drawn raves for not backing down in press coverage.
"He said I was doing really well. Competing," Brooks recounted. "He just said I'll have a chance to play a lot of football and to just keep working hard. Anytime you hear something like that from the head coach, it's encouraging. I take that as a positive and just use that as motivation as we go into this break."
As his team heads into this break, Lewis can't help wonder how truly young his team is going to end up being. The youngest in the NFL? The top three?
"I would think," he said.
And, to borrow one of his pet phrases, that's a good thing.
The numbers suggest a slight geological shift toward the age gap from '03 and '04. The average age of the roster on July 6, 2003 was 25.44. The average age as of Monday is 25.25. Last year, there were three players with at least 10 years experience. This year, there is one, center Rich Braham. Last year, there were nine players at least 30 years old the week training camp started. This year, there are seven. Last year, there were 25 players with five or more seasons of NFL experience heading into camp. On Monday, there are 23.
But, remember, 31 players have to go, from 84 to 53. The generation gap could become a major crack come Cutdown Day. Especially if the young guys like Brooks, who went in the sixth round probably because of his slight 175 pounds, prove tough and big in preseason.
"I have to stay focused, get in my playbook, and continue to work hard. Just because we're going into a break, that doesn't mean to give up," said Brooks, no doubt repeating some of Lewis' sentiments before he sent them off the field.
Brooks is lucky. He has what he calls "a big brother," waiting on him back home in New Orleans for workouts between and now and training camp. When he prepped at Archbishop Shaw, they compared him to a guy who played at Shaw and later and went on to play in the NFL.
Tory Steven James, who just happens to be one of the Bengals' starting cornerbacks.
To this day, Brooks still remembers what they said about him during a televised broadcast of Shaw's appearance in the state high school title game.
"They said I was like Tory James, covering them like a blanket," Brooks said. "I've always been following in his footsteps. It's a coincidence. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe I can develop up under his wing. That's a real special guy. He's very positive, very helpful and friendly. I know if I need anything, he's there."
The competition is stiff. Do they keep five or six cornerbacks? James, Deltha O'Neal, and second-rounder Keiwan Ratliff look to make it. Veteran Reggie Myles is a special team ace, veteran Alvin Porter has started in the league, veteran Terrell Roberts has looked good in camp, they like how Brooks plays aggressively. . .
Brooks finishes up here during this last week of conditioning, and then heads to the NFL Rookie Symposium. Then it's back home to work with James.
"I'm not sure what we're going to do," Brooks said. "It's going to be a couple of times a week. This is like a home away from home. I'm just going to do whatever he says. He's been doing this for eight years. I'm the little brother, he's the big brother."
There is the question. How big are the little guys going to play?
"I'm sure we'll be full of you know what and vinegar," said Lewis when asked what he wanted to see on the field July 31. "I think we're in better shape than a year ago because we know what to expect. We've got a different group of guys. We've got a bunch of 20-year-olds."
The trend may be slight, but it's very much there. Last July 6, there were 55 players on the roster with four years of experience or less. On Monday, it is 61.