While it’s still technically a new offense in Pittsburgh under first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada, Tony Brooks-James is picking up right where he left off in 2019.
Brooks-James, who spent three games with the Steelers in 2019, was signed off the street on August 3 largely due to the Steelers having a number of injuries at the running backs position. Since coming off the street, Brooks-James has looked pretty impressive in limited action in the preseason and in training camp, showing off his speed and overall vision to make waves between the white lines.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles in the second half Thursday, Brooks-James looked like he was playing at a different speed, which was noticeable right away.
Brooks-James’ first carry showed his overall speed in a zone run, planting his right foot in the turf and bursting upfield to move the chains on second and 10. Though he’s a bit smaller in stature for the position, Brooks-James is not afraid to drop his shoulder and routinely falls forward at the end of runs.
He does a great job here seeing the lane open up inside thanks to the block by wide receiver Isaiah McKoy on the outside and Kevin Dotson and Chaz Green combination block at the second level.
Early in the fourth quarter, Brooks-James flashed his ability to pick up tough yards between the tackles. He shows a bit of shiftiness inside and avoided the big shots while churning forward.
He’s just an overall tough runner despite his build, which has me quite intrigued when studying his game tape from Thursday’s game.
When the Steelers looked to ice the game Thursday night, it wasn’t Jaylen Samuels or Pete Guerriero in the game. It was Brooks-James. The Oregon product did a great job getting upfield in a hurry and running well behind his pads, picking up yards in chunks.
I really like the way Brooks-James sets up the block from Aviante Collins here on the toss, stretching this run out as far as he can before planting his left foot and bursting upfield, slipping through the crack created by his setup to push near the first down marker. You can see the power and overall contact balance he plays with as well, dragging two defenders with him while taking a big shot from the Eagles’ defender at the end of the run.
Finally, on Brooks-James’ final carry of the game, he showed off his patience and ability to get up to speed in a hurry.
You can see Brooks-James gear down just slightly upon taking the handoff, allowing his linemen to work into their blocks, creating a lane. Once Brooks-James sees the lane, watch him burst forward in the blink of an eye and get up to speed, gashing the Eagles’ front seven before taking a big hit at the end of the run just short of the first-down marker.
Overall, Brooks-James definitely opened my eyes Thursday night. I thought he was arguably the best runner on the night, right there with Samuels, who also had a strong game against the Eagles. Brooks-James is definitely a practice squad candidate at this point, and would be good bet to stick around throughout the 2020 season due to his speed, vision and special teams abilities that the Steelers saw in 2019.