Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks isn’t participating in this week’s organized team activities this week due to a minor knee injury that kept him out of the Pro Bowl, but he spent time on the practice field working with the younger players.

Brooks, who led the team in tackles (172) last season en route to earning a franchise-record eighth trip to the Pro Bowl, said he hopes to return to the field “soon”, but in the meantime, he’s getting a feel for the talent on the Bucs roster before they participate in the NFL Draft later this month.

“I’m not participating in these three days, but the approach is always the same,” Brooks said. “You introduce new guys that we’ve signed to the tempo of practice, get a look at the team from a pre-draft standpoint and really, for the two weeks that guys have been here, start to get football terminology down. Everything has been lifting weights and running; now they’re starting to put football terminology together. It’s a chance for the coaches to look at some stuff, introduce some new stuff and change some stuff. These three days allow them to do that before we go into the draft.”

While he spent this week observing OTA workouts, Brooks said he’s been a bit reserved in terms of coaching the players.

“I’ve been trying to keep the muzzle on,” Brooks said. “I want these guys to get used to making their own mistakes. In the past, I’ve either yelled out checks or gone out of my way to do stuff. Right now, I’m just sitting back and allowing these kids and the new guys to learn on their own. They need to make mistakes now – that’s good, so that they don’t make them again. So right now I’m just sitting back and observing.”

Brooks also said he’s put Tampa Bay’s two straight losing seasons behind him and is focused on helping the Bucs rebound in 2005.

“We’ve put the water under the bridge,” said Brooks. “Over 95 percent of the players are here. That’s a real good start right now. We’re not looking back, we’re looking forward. People can pick and say what they want, but three years ago we won and we didn’t have a chance then either. Coach [Jon Gruden] had just gotten here. What I’m going to do is let all that stuff take care of itself. We’re just going to look to work on the field. Let’s put in our work on the field and we’ll get what we deserve.”

However, getting better might be tough, especially for Tampa Bay’s defense, which has lost three starters in free agency, including defensive tackle Chuck Darby, strong safety Dwight Smith and strongside linebacker Ian Gold, who ranked third in the team in tackles (120) last season and was released in a salary-cap maneuver in March.

With Gold gone, one of the battles Brooks will enjoy watching most will be the one between Jeff Gooch and Marquis Cooper, both of whom are competing for the starting “Sam” linebacker job.

“I think they can help fill Ian’s shoes because they’re familiar with what we do,” Brooks said of Gooch, who has previous starting experience on the strong side, and Cooper, who is entering his second year in the pros. “They don’t have to do it all alone, either. We all have to do our part to replace a player with the talents of Ian Gold.”

DRAFT PROSPECTS VISIT BUCS:
With Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks temporarily sidelined with his knee injury, the Bucs have asked him to help welcome some of the draft prospects that have been visiting One Buc Place over the last week.

Brooks realizes how important this draft is to the Bucs, who have 12 selections this year, and he said he trusts Coach Jon Gruden, general manger Bruce Allen and the rest of the team’s coaching and personnel staff to draft the players they feel will help right the ship.

“I’m no draft geek,” said Brooks. “All I can do is sit back and trust that they’re doing the right thing. They’re going to address the needs that this coaching staff feels will get this team better. I’m just sitting back and receiving the guys as they come in and continue to be part of this organization.”

Two of the players Brooks helped welcome to One Buc Place Thursday were running backs J.J. Arrington (Cal) and Ryan Moats (Louisiana Tech), both of whom are expected to be first-day draft selections. Texas RB Cedric Benson, who will likely be a first-round pick later this month, spent Wednesday meeting with Tampa Bay officials.

Gruden, Allen and Bucs quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett spent Thursday evening traveling to the West Coast to attend the workouts of quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (Cal) and Alex Smith (Utah), which will be held on Friday and Saturday.

FLYING HIGH:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Michael Clatyon will ride in an F-16 fighter jet with the Thunderbirds of the United States Air Force on Friday, April 8.

Clayton’s plane will take off at 2:28 p.m. from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, which is where Air Fest 2005 is being held. The flight will last approximately one hour.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Bucs LB Derrick Brooks (6-0, 235) on what some critics said about his lack of size when he entered the NFL Draft back in 1995 as a first-round draft pick out of Florida State:

“I was a risk 11 years ago, now I’m a prototype.”

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