Brooks puts spring in step forward
John Romano, The St.Petersburg Times, published 16 September 1996

The ground game is no longer a running joke for the Buccaneers. Reggie Brooks replaced Jerry Ellison as the lead back in Tampa Bay's offense and he responded with a stellar effort against the Broncos Sunday night. Brooks gained 114 yards on 15 carries and scored Tampa Bay's first touchdown of the season. "We wanted to give Reggie some more carries because we think he's an explosive back," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "He gave us the lift that we needed."

The Bucs had been struggling to establish a running game between the tackles, but Brooks added a new dimension with the ability to bounce outside. He had Tampa Bay's longest run of the season with a 31-yard scamper in the first half. Then he outdid himself in the third quarter with a 56-yard run that set up a game-tying touchdown. Both of those runs are longer than any Errict Rhett has had in his two-year NFL career. "We always knew he had big-play ability, it was nice to see him break away when we gave him a little crease," guard Ian Beckles said. "I think from here our running game will just get better."

The Bucs' running game had been virtually non-existent the past two months. Tampa Bay running backs had gained 125 yards through the first two games, averaging 2.4 yards. So Brooks' performance should quiet, at least momentarily, the furor over Rhett's holdout. "Hopefully, it will make everyone shut up about No. 32 and that situation," quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "He played as good as a running back could play, he made some moves."

Brooks' presence not only helped the running game, it also opened up the rest of the offense. The Broncos had to pay attention to more than just the passing lanes. "In the first two games we weren't running," Dungy said. "When you're running the ball you can do some other things and give people a chance to make plays."

The Bucs went into the season with Ellison as the starting tailback, although most of the running had been by committee. Brooks, Ellison, Mike Alstott and LeRoy Thompson all had between 11 and 16 carries in the first two games. After a horrendous effort against the Lions last week, Dungy said he would try to feature a single back. "I'm not surprised because this is by far the toughest offensive line I've ever been around," Brooks said. "They're banged up but they're tough. I just wanted to make sure I didn't let them down when they gave me the holes."

Brooks got the Bucs back in the game in the third quarter with the 56-yard run to the Denver 27. "That was set up with blocks by Mike Alstott and Tony Mayberry," said Brooks. "But when I break free like that I have to finish the play off and I did it."

Brooks did not come out of nowhere to put up these numbers. He just came out of hibernation. A 1,000-yard runner as a rookie with the Redskins in 1993, Brooks fell into disfavor with Washington coach Norv Turner after suffering an injury and then having fumbling problems. He went virtually unused in Washington the past two years and was waived in preseason. The Bucs were able to sign him for $361,000, just about the same salary Rhett was scheduled to make this year. "We improved and it shows," Brooks said. "This is the way we're going to win ballgames, by cutting back on mistakes and making more big plays."