The sun beamed down on the Ravens practice fields at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills in late July. The temperature was blazing, yet there stood defensive line coach Clarence Brooks, cool as cucumber admiring his troops, the ones that battle in the trenches each and every game day.
Each drill that was run, Brooks was right there alongside his players encouraging them. “Don’t quit” and “You’ll thank me later” he would bellow after each and every rep.
In his tenth season with the team, Brooks was just one of six assistant coaches retained by head coach John Harbaugh when he was hired in 2008.
The decision to keep him has paid dividends.
Leading the charge up front with the defensive line, Brook’s group have allowed the NFL’s fewest rushing TDs (63) and the NFL’s third-fewest rushing yards per game (93.1) since 2006.
Baltimore is the only NFL team to rank in the top seven in red zone defense in each of the past 11 seasons, and Brooks’ coaching ability has been a huge part of that accomplishment.
In 2014, Brooks was tasked with developing a young, relatively inexperienced group of lineman with the help of veterans Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty.
Together that group turned in one of the finest seasons in recent memory for a Ravens defensive front.
The Ravens allowed the NFL’s sixth-fewest points (18.9) and eighth-fewest yards per game (336.9). Baltimore was one of five teams (Buf, Det, KC, & Sea) to rank in the top eight in both points and yards allowed. Brooks’ unit contributed to a Ravens defense that was stout in the red zone in 2014, permitting a 42.6% TD efficiency mark, ranking as the NFL’s second-best figure.
Though they faced some of the league’s best running backs this season, the Ravens did not allow a 100-yard rusher.
Second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams earned the starting job this summer and was the tenth-highest rated (+15.6) at his position per Pro Football Focus. Williams recorded 48 total tackles, a half of a sack, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Ngata had a stellar season for the Ravens right up until he was suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Ngata saw a reduced number of snaps than in years past (546) as the Ravens rotated personnel to keep him fresh. Haloti had 32 total tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
Rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan saw extended reps (312) including three starts in Ngata’s place. The former Florida State standout finished with four sacks, seven quarterback hits and 13 tackles. He listed as PFF’s 14th best rated (+8.9), just five spots below Ngata.
Chris Canty had an up and down season as injuries took a toll on the veteran defensive end, who started 11 games in his tenth season, his second in Baltimore. What Canty lacked on the field (33 combined tackle, 1/2 sack and 2 passes defensed) he made up for in helping his young teammates.
Defensive ends Lawrence Guy (14 games/1 start) and DeAngelo Tyson (11 games/4 starts) filled in admirably. Tyson is under contract ahead in 2015 while Guy is a restricted free agent.
The Ravens will likely get defensive ends Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore back by the time OTAs roll around, as both suffered season-ending injuries during training camp.
The outlook is positive next season for Brooks and he will no doubt pick up where he left off this year. He is a players coach but tough as nails. His players respect him and lean on every word. He’s the kind of guy that his players will go through a wall for. In essence Brooks stands for everything it means to be a Raven and the team is damn lucky to have held onto him for as long as they have.
He may not get all the glory like some other coaches do, but he is no doubt the unsung hero among the Ravens coaching staff.
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