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Film Room: Antoine Brooks Jr. is your new favorite Steeler, Part 2: Pass defense

Antoine Brooks has great highlights, but will he see the field in the Steelers Defense?

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

In part 1 of this film room, we looked at Antoine Brooks Jr. in run defense, showing the combination of awareness and aggression that led to a lot of splash plays for the Maryland defense.

In part 2 I want to look at Brooks in coverage and rushing the passer. Antoine Brooks Jr. recorded 3.5 sacks, 4 interceptions and 9 passes defended in his 36 games as a starter in college. While Brooks recorded 8.5 tackles for loss in 2019 (down from 9.5 each of the previous seasons) he would record zero sacks after recording 2.5 in 2018, but record a career high 5 passes defended. As you can guess from those numbers, Brooks played back in more traditional safety roles more often in 2019, dropping into coverage more and rushing the passer less. The overall play didn’t change though, he continued to be the same player he had been the previous 2 seasons.

Antoine Brooks Jr. loves WR screens

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the slot DB closest to the line of scrimmage, bottom of the screen.

Sending a WR to block Brooks by himself is a great way to have your play go really bad.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the Slot DB closest to the line of scrimmage, top of the screen.

Texas sends two WRs to block Brooks. Outnumbered 3-1, Brooks still gets his man, but at least Texas got 5 yards.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the Slot DB closest to the line of scrimmage, top of the screen.

This time Brooks just takes one of the blockers and drives him straight back at the receiver. The receiver has to stop running and avoid Brooks before he can go anywhere. You’d like to see another player on Maryland’s defense show up in that time, but that’s not how things worked on that defense.

Watching a lot of these types of plays, I kept thinking about the speed to the ball the Steelers have with Terrell Edmunds and Devin Bush. If Brooks made a play like this on the Steelers defense, they wouldn’t give up 6 yards.

Defending the flats

Antoine Brooks Jr. is just outside and behind the DE, bottom of the screen.

This alignment is in that LB/S range Brooks played a lot. This time he’s dropping into coverage. He starts out with just enough depth to threaten any quick routes to the TE, and then easily closes on the RB to hold a 3rd and 2 play to no gain.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the Slot DB closest to the line of scrimmage,bottom of the screen.

Brooks is covering the slot receiver, but he keeps his eyes up, sees the pass to the outside WR and makes him pay for his QB’s high throw.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is off the line to the bottom of the screen.

Again in his most common spot, he reads for the run, then drops similar to the first play in this section. But this time his human missile style of tackling leads to a broken tackle and it ends up a TD. Brooks will record splash plays, but also misses. That’s what you get with this play style. Troy Polamalu took this style of play to the highest level we’ve seen and he still missed tackles, when you are flying around like this, you will miss tackles.

But when he isn’t missing, Brooks is a monster attacking plays in the flats. Brooks is a dynamic defender on outside runs and passes to the flat, screens included. That’s the strength he brings to a defense, but obviously there’s more to defense than just that.

Man Coverage

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the deep safety to the bottom of the screen, on the 37> yard line.

Here Brooks is in man coverage on a WR on a deeper route, and he isn’t going to win that match up often.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the slot DB to the bottom of the screen.

This is Towson, he isn’t facing an NFL talent at WR, but they still get the better of him for the only points Towson would score in the game.

You don’t want Brooks covering WRs in man very often. That’s not his skill set.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the slot DB over the TE, he follows the TE inside before the snap.

You can see that Brooks is fine covering a TE who isn’t fast enough to just burn him.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the deep DB to the top of the screen, just in front of the first down line.

Here Brooks is covering current Steeler Zach Gentry, and his QB figures that he can just throw it over Brooks for a completion. Instead it’s a tipped ball and an interception for Maryland.

Antoine Brooks Jr. isn’t a fast and shifty defender, and that may limit his ability to play meaningful snaps in the NFL. But if you can’t just burn him, he’s going to impact the play.

Zone Coverage

Antoine Brooks Jr. is on the line to the top of the screen.

Brooks drops at the snap, carrying the TE through his shallow zone before turning and finding the RB that has moved out into the flat. He showed numerous times that he is good at handing off a target and locating a new one. Unfortunately the defender he hands the TE off too doesn’t stay with him.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the deep defender to the top of the screen.

Again we see the quick play recognition, and a good tackle, but you can also see he isn’t a dynamic athlete, he can’t cover the ground fast enough to challenge the play.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the deep defender to the top of the screen.

Similar setup, this time the WR goes outside, and Brooks is right there to hold it to a minimal gain.

Antoine Brooks Jr. has the recognition skills and reaction time to be a good zone defender, but he doesn’t have the speed you want in deep zones.

Why cover the receiver when you can hit the QB?

Enough of the weaknesses in Antoine Brooks Jr.’s game, let’s get back to the fun stuff.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is standing up, on the line, to the top of the screen.

Brooks gets the best of the H-Back, chasing the QB out of the pocket, then gets the better of the H-Back again.

Again we see the ability to overpower bigger players, and we see a target evade him.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is just outside the box to the top of the screen, On the “R”.

Brooks gets low and drives #42 back into his own QB. Like the Wolverines learned above, don’t send a man in a #42 jersey at Antoine Brooks Jr.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is just outside the box to the top of the screen, On the “A”.

Again he gets low, this time getting under the tackle’s arms for a sack.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is on the line to the bottom of the screen.

This time he stands a tackle up and moves him out of the way.

Antoine Brooks Jr. only recorded 4 sacks in his career, but he was a disruptive force on blitzes with or without a sack.


It’s already been stated that Antoine Brooks Jr. will have to make an impact on special teams to make the roster, and I think he will make the roster for that reason. Beyond that though, what kind of a role would Brooks succeed in?

He is great in short zones and blitzes, and he can man cover less athletic TEs and RBs. He’s like a smaller version of Vince Williams right now. There’s not much room on the field for that kind of player, so I don’t see much chance of him getting snaps on defense this year.

I can see two routes to play time for Antoine Brooks Jr.

First, the Steelers to ask him to play a bit lighter than he did at the combine, and if that change, NFL training programs and experience can help him cover slot WRs, he could very well take over Mike Hilton’s role in dime defense. The only thing Mike Hilton is asked to do that I wouldn’t want Brooks doing in college is covering slot receivers in man, everything else Brooks can handle.

That’s one possibility. The other possibility is they groom him to fill Mark Barron’s role from 2019. Barron’s main value was covering TEs in man, and if Brooks can become proficient at handling the better TEs, he’d be valuable.

I’d love to see Brooks become a well-rounded enough DB to see the field, because he is dynamic attacking the flats and blitzing. He should be a lot of fun to watch in preseason either way.