Brookins proving pick-me-up when run game starts to drag

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Finding comfort level, rookie comes on strong as a backup to Allen

October 13, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

It's too late to help the Orioles, but a closer has finally surfaced in Baltimore.

Running back Jason Brookins fretted along with Ravens fans through August and the first two weeks of the NFL season.

A season-ending knee injury to Jamal Lewis had created a void in the ground game. Frustration grew as veteran Terry Allen and a shaky offensive line produced little in an uninspired win over the Bears and a shocking loss to the Bengals.

Brookins' workload in those two games consisted of one carry in Cincinnati for 8 yards. A rookie who was released from the Ravens' practice squad last year, he was accustomed to a heavy workload in junior college and at Lane College, a Division II institution in Jackson, Tenn. His impatience mounted as coach Brian Billick kept him on hold.

"He [Billick] was a little skeptical at first," Brookins said. "He thought that the mental part of my game wasn't ready. As the weeks go on, he figured that part of my game is getting better. I'm still young. He did the job he was supposed to by waiting. He let me get more comfortable in the offense, and now he's inserting me."

The Ravens' stirring comeback in Denver Sept. 30 was capped by a 70-yard drive in the fourth quarter. The winning points came on a pass from Elvis Grbac to Travis Taylor, but another big play was provided by Brookins, who broke through the right side for a 20-yard gain.

Last Sunday against the Titans, Brookins had two carries for as many yards in the first half, but his coming-out party resumed after intermission, when he rushed 13 times for 66 yards.

Billick wants his players to pass along game balls, and the one awarded to Allen was handed to Brookins, who completed a 26-7 rout with a 1-yard dive, his first NFL touchdown.

"That meant a lot to me," Brookins said. "Terry's been to Pro Bowls and had 1,000-yard seasons. As a first-year back, you have to lean on someone like that. He's making me into a good back, keeping me calm and patient."

Brookins is 25, but by NFL standards he has young legs. After Allen and a rejuvenated line wore down the Bronco and Titan defenses, Brookins, a frisky 6 feet and 235 pounds, entered and bowled them over for a 5.7-yard average per carry in the second half.

"It feels great to be able to contribute to wins," Brookins said. "They're letting me run out the clock in crucial situations and I've been able to do good things with it."

In September, seemingly an entire region argued that Allen was over the hill. Brookins came under even more pointed criticism from Billick, who questioned his understanding of the offense, particularly pass-protection schemes.

Now, the head coach is more comfortable with the substitute who twice has pushed over a teetering defense.

"That's how it is with rookies; you have to swat them down now and then," said Billick, who turned serious about Brookins' development. "He's working very hard, trying to be the complete player. He certainly brings a physicality to the running game, and it will be a nice combination with Terry. He still has a ways to go, but he's improving."

Stokley patient

This is not the way wide receiver Brandon Stokley anticipated starting the season, but he'll take it over where he stood a year ago.

Buried on the depth chart, Stokley did not play in the Ravens' first nine games in 2000. His first catch of the season went for a 14-yard score against the Bengals that broke the offense's five-game touchdown drought.

It was Stokley who opened the scoring in the Super Bowl by getting behind Jason Sehorn and hauling in a 38-yard touchdown pass from Trent Dilfer.

He went into this season as the starter opposite Qadry Ismail, who was backed up by Taylor. When Stokley was slowed by a strained knee ligament at Cincinnati Sept. 23, Taylor took advantage of the opening to become more of a target. Now, Taylor is the starter and Stokley the backup who works out of the slot when the situation calls for a three-receiver formation.

The third-year pro out of Southwestern Louisiana has only one catch for 3 yards to show for the last two games. For the season, he has five receptions for 44 yards.

"When you're struggling a little bit, all you have to do is look back to last year," Stokley said. "It's a long season, and a lot of things happen. You just have to be patient and know your role."

Injury update

Left guard Edwin Mulitalo had a limited workout yesterday, and his availability for tomorrow's game will be a game-time decision.

Mulitalo, who injured his ankle against the Titans, has not had a full practice this week and is questionable for the game in Green Bay. The chances of him playing will be further reduced if forecasted rain occurs.

Defensive end Rob Burnett (calf) has been upgraded from questionable to probable after practicing yesterday. Tight end Todd Heap (ankle) remains unlikely to play, and defensive back Gary Baxter (chest) was added to the injury list as questionable.

Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley contributed to this article

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