It’s fair to say that this year has been a rookie season unlike any other for the NFL Draft class of 2020. Never before has the league had to play through a pandemic and issue protocols restricting in-person activities. This is the most significant non-labor disruption since World War II.
It was thought that the effect would be rookies having a much more difficult time getting on the field, or even making the roster, without the opportunity to show coaches what they can do in the preseason, or to have that time to develop on the field over the course of the Spring and Summer.
In spite of that, the draft class overall has fared pretty well, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have actually gotten a good amount of productivity from their picks, which is made all the remarkable by the fact that they only had six draft picks—and none of them were in the first round.
Of the six draft picks, sixth-round safety Antoine Brooks was the only one who did not make the 53-man roster. But through a variety of mechanisms introduced in 2020, he has been active for the past three games. While he is back on the practice squad now, there is a fair chance that he gets called up.
Anyone who is familiar with his story knows that his path hasn’t always been easy. He was even once a quarterback who suffered a career-threatening injury. Now he is what general manager Kevin Colbert described after the draft as “half a safety, half a linebacker”. And he’s fighting for every rep and every snap he can get.
Other players during the week have told reporters about the hard coaching that Brooks has received. He more or less acknowledged that, yes, he does get coached hard, but it’s also something that he welcomes. “Everything through my life has been motivation. I take everything as motivation”, he told reporters on Thursday, via video provided by the team’s media department.
“If they’re hard on me, they’re hard on me because they like me”, he added. “If they don’t say nothing, then that means I’m a little worried. Other than that, I just kept putting my head down and moving forward. That’s what good football players do, and I just want to be great at the end of the day”.
Essentially, Brooks is the fifth safety, although he is technically on the practice squad, at least for now. On the 53-man roster, you have the starters in Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds, and behind them are Jordan Dangerfield and Sean Davis.
Given the way that they worked him onto the field on Sunday, it does seem at least that they have a vision for what they want from him in the future, and perhaps that they also see him being a part of the defense. That is part of what all the hard coaching is about, after all.