Move from Georgia to Cowboys rejuvenates Brooking

Aug 17, 2009 - 8:13 AM By STEPHEN HAWKINS AP Sports Writer

SAN ANTONIO(AP) -- Keith Brooking realized how different things really were while on the way to his first training camp with the Dallas Cowboys.

After a flight from Georgia, where he had spent his entire football career from youth leagues to the Super Bowl, Brooking got into his truck and still had a four-hour drive down Interstate 35 to get to camp.

At 33 and entering his 12th NFL season, Brooking finally left home and has a fresh start.

"New beginnings are exciting and I think it came at a perfect time in my career," he said. "It's rejuvenated me. It's re-energized me. I feel like I have a lot to prove still. That's a great motivating factor when you have that inside of you."

Brooking was the last remaining player from Atlanta's only Super Bowl 11 seasons ago and had started every game while leading the Falcons in tackles in each of the last eight years. Yet, the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker couldn't come to terms on a new contract with Atlanta, which was offering less money and the likelihood of suddenly being a backup.

So Brooking signed a three-year, $6 million deal with Dallas, where he was reunited with coach Wade Phillips and will still be a starter.

For those who may wonder how much Brooking has left to contribute, he takes such skepticism as a compliment to his longevity. He says his legs feel great and that he still can play at a "very high" level.

"The people that are around me every day, the people that know football, that break down the film and dissect the film on a daily basis, they know what I have in the tank," he said. "And that's all that matters."

Phillips, the Cowboys head coach who is also his own defensive coordinator, coached the Falcons defense in 2002 and 2003. Those were Brooking's best two seasons, when he had 212 tackles in 2002 and followed that with 207 the next year. His highest total in any other season is 167.

"He's a big, fast guy that plays in football position all the time. He's ready to break on the ball, he's ready to run to make a tackle. He's got good timing on blitzes," Phillips said. "I see the same guy."

During practice Sunday, Brooking shot the gap and picked up speedy running back Felix Jones coming out of the backfield and stayed with him in the flat. The pass was thrown a different direction.

The 3-4 scheme used by Phillips is still virtually the same as it was then, and the Cowboys opted for Brooking in the middle with Bradie James instead of re-signing free agent Zach Thomas, who last season came home to play in Texas after 12 seasons in Miami.

An unexpected part of Brooking's move is being in the same division with former teammate Michael Vick, a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback during six seasons with Atlanta (2001-06) before serving 18 months in federal prison for running a dogfighting ring. Vick, reinstated last month by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, signed last week with Philadelphia.

"I think Michael deserves the opportunity," Brooking said. "I know Mike personally. He's a good man, he made a mistake."

Brooking could possibly face Vick twice this season.

"He's the most dynamic player I ever played with, that I've ever seen on the field," Brooking said. "I'll have some sleepless nights before we play him."

Brooking also gets to face his former team at his new home. The Falcons play at Cowboys Stadium on Oct. 25.

While there were mixed emotions, Brooking said there are no hard feelings about leaving Atlanta, where he grew up in the suburbs before going to Georgia Tech then being drafted by the Falcons and playing in the Super Bowl as a rookie.

"This just came at a great time in my career," Brooking said. "It may sound weird, people are like 'How can you say this? You are from Atlanta, you've played from the time you were 6 years old within a 20-mile radius.'

"But I couldn't think of a better way to finish my career. I really couldn't. ... It's just a perfect situation for me."

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