FOXBOROUGH — On Monday night, Terrence Brooks will face his former team, the New York Jets, in the Meadowlands. His role, though, will be different than the one he played for them when he played there.
Brooks, who wasn’t the splashiest free agent acquisition the Patriots made this spring, has primarily been a special teams player throughout his career. This year, though, he’s playing on defense, too. It turns out that’s something coach Bill Belichick thought he could do when he and the Patriots signed him to a two-year deal in March.
“I think that’s one of the things that I talked about with him when we visited him and signed him — that we use a lot of defensive packages and our players play,” Belichick said. “All the players play, and as you said, that’s something that he hasn’t really had a lot of chance to do in his career. So, he’s really embraced it. He’s taken on a number of different roles and he’s worked very hard to understand those.”
Brooks has played 29 percent — 107 total — of the Patriots’ defensive snaps this season. Through six games, that’s already the second-highest total of his six-year career in the NFL. His career high came his rookie year in Baltimore, where Brooks played 234 defensive snaps, 22 percent of the Ravens’ total. He played 27 percent of their special teams snaps that year as well.
In 2018 with the Jets, he played 6 percent of the team’s defensive snaps but 79 percent of its special teams snaps, where he made his impact.
Brooks is still playing half the special teams snaps for the Patriots, and special teams captain Matthew Slater told Brooks he was thrilled to not have to deal with him on fourth downs this week now that they’re teammates. It is no longer fair, though, to say that Brooks is near-exclusively a special teamer.
Brooks said that it’ll feel strange to go back to Metlife Stadium as a member of the visiting team, but he’s not revenge-minded. The Jets liked him enough to trade for him in August 2017, though the new Adam Gase regime did decline to pick up a contract option to keep Brooks this season.
“That one’s always a little touchy,” Brooks said. “Honestly, I’m so grateful for every opportunity that I’m given, but it always does feel a little different and you definitely want to go out and play a great game against former teams. For the most part I’m just focused on my game and what I need to do and clean up any mistakes I’ve had and make sure I go out on Monday and execute.”
That’s regardless of who’s playing quarterback for New York, Brooks said. He has familiarity from last season with Sam Darnold, whom the Patriots will face for the first time this year after seeing backup Luke Falk in their first meeting with the Jets.
Darnold, who had a great game against the Cowboys in his first week back from a bout with mononucleosis, is clearly a tougher opponent than Falk, but Brooks was convinced that wouldn’t change much for the defense.
“We go out and execute our game plan and just stay on what we need to do, I feel like it’ll be fine,” Brooks said. “It shouldn’t even matter.”
It is, of course, far less important simply to play on defense than it is to play well, but Brooks has been doing that, too. Depth is the hallmark of this Patriots defense, and the unit hasn’t slowed down when they’ve subbed in their rotational players.
He isn’t a 1-to-1 sub for any one other safety, but he has some similar traits to Patrick Chung and does often sub in for him. Chung is currently dealing with a chest injury, which could mean additional work for Brooks.
“We’ve put a lot on his plate defensively and special teams,” said safeties coach Steve Belichick. “We keep giving him more to do and he keeps coming through for us. So yeah, been pleased with everything that Terrence has done.”
The younger Belichick said that hasn’t been too much for Brooks, whom he described as fitting in well with the veteran safety group. Brooks said he has leaned on all teammates, especially Chung, to understand the defense.
The older Belichick felt similarly.
“We have different multiples in our defense, and between the multiples of the defense and different positions, the wheel can start spinning there a little bit, especially for somebody that hasn’t been in the system for multiple years like Devin [McCourty] and Pat [Chung] and Duron [Harmon] have,” Belichick said.
“But he’s done very well with it and has given us a lot of solid play there as a part of different packages and rotations, but also for Pat. So, he does a nice job for us and continues to contribute in the kicking game, so he’s been a very valuable addition for us this year.”