Note: This story appears in the Thursday, Aug. 22 newspaper on Page A6.
When you watch Marlin Brooks play cornerback — be it in a practice in March, in the dog days of training camp, or under the lights on game day — you realize a couple things right away.
First, he’s not the textbook size of a Division I college football player. A 5-foot-10 junior listed at 170 pounds, Brooks looks like the word ‘wiry’ was created specifically for him. All muscle and sinew, he slings his body around on the field like the super-aggressive — but small — dog that flies around the yard whenever someone walks by.
And secondly, again like a hyped up terrier, Brooks is barking the whole time.
“It’s got to be Marlin,” said Ohio junior wide receiver Cam Odom, when asked who does the most on-the-field talking for the Ohio defense. “He just never stops.”
Brooks’ gift for gab is rivaled only by his confidence and his ability to create impact plays in the Ohio secondary. When diagnosing why the Bobcats’ defense was able to improve dramatically after an awful first six games in 2018, it doesn’t take long to settle on Brooks — and fellow junior corner Jamal Hudson — as primary reasons why the mid-season turnaround happened.
As Brooks and Hudson, both became first time starters in 2018, got more comfortable and more confident, the Bobcats became much more stingy.
“Once me and Jamal felt comfortable enough, that’s when everything starting clicking for sure,” Brooks said.
Where the young corners were often victimized for big plays early last season, they became the playmakers during the second half. Brooks, for example, stuffed a bushel full of ‘havoc’ plays into the final seven games of 2018.
Brooks, despite his size, was effective at setting the edge. He led the secondary with 5.0 tackles for loss, and added a pair of sacks. Those wiry arms proved adept at punching out the football (3 forced fumbles), and he was attached to his receiver more often and in position to make plays on balls in the air (one interception, four passes defended).
Brooks created a ‘havoc’ play on 38.8 percent of the plays he was involved in. He created 8.1 percent of all the havoc plays from the Ohio defense in 2018 — the third-highest rate on the roster.
It’s never boring when Brooks is playing. Teams are taking their shots at him, he’s delivering big plays, and his energy, enthusiasm and ability to trash talk with the best make him an entertaining watch.
Ohio cornerbacks coach De’Angelo Smith said he’s okay with Brooks continuing his long-running trend of talking — to the opponent, to teammates, or himself — on virtually every rep. And Smith — a fine college corner at Cincinnati who had a brief NFL career — said Brooks is nearly as good with his mouth as any player he’s been around.
“One of the corners I played with (current UC corners coach Mike Mickens), now he was a talkers talker,” Smith explained. “But Marlin’s up there. Top five. Easy.
“Now if you’re talking and they’re dropping deep balls on you…focus in on what you got to do. You talk too much and everything else is falling apart,” Smith continued. “If you’re talking, and you’re backing it up, I ain’t got no problem with it.”
Brooks turned that corner last season. And the talk serves a purpose. It’s as much part of his game as wearing a helmet and shoulder pads.
Brooks picked up a lot of his insights into the cornerback position from his father, Nathaniel Brooks. Nathaniel Brooks also had a stint in the NFL, and was a corner at the University of Miami from 1995-98 where he had two career punt return touchdowns and two career interceptions.
Whenever Nathaniel taught Marlin a technique or offered a tip, he provided a saying to go with it.
“Every time he taught me something, he had a punchline to go with it so I could remember it,” Marlin Brooks said. “That’s how it started.
“I got comfortable saying things, and being conditioned enough to where I could talk all the time and have fun doing it,” he continued. “It’s not work for me.
“I call it ‘Ultimate P.E. (physical education).’ We’re just out there having fun doing all kinds of activities.”
Besides the non-stop chatter, it’s Brooks grit and tenacity that set him apart. There’s little to no backdown in him, which was created from the long days of competing against some of the best high school talent in the country in Florida.
Brooks lived in Miami and played for Coral Gables Senior High School. Over the years he’s seen and played against of the best college receivers in the country — names like Calvin Ridley and Jerry Jeudy — and said if you don’t believe in yourself you won’t last long as a DB.
“That’s some of the top competition in the country, back home in Florida,” Brooks said. “You have to pay with a chip (on your sholder) because if you show any sign of weakness, you’re targeted.”
So Brooks will keep talking. He’ll keep throwing his whole self into every play. And Ohio hopes he continues making plays.
It can be a lonely existence as a cornerback in a defense that prioritizes man coverage. There will be times you get beat. There will be times where it just might look like you get beat when actually it was a bust somewhere on down the line.
But Brooks can take it. Give him island duty from start to finish if you want. He only knows one speed on the field, and he’s going to attack each snap as himself.
“You got to love your island because at the end of the day, it’s you,” he said. “I don’t take offense when they come at me.
“I love it. I love being on the island by myself — mano y mano — with that man to show him I’m better, more well conditioned, more well coached and have a better team behind me. That’s what it’s all about.”