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BFC's Brooks finds being all-star is no safety net


It wasn't only the rookies on trial in the Baltimore Football Club's exhibition opener Saturday night. In the wake of a 45-11 rout of the Ottawa Rough Riders, veteran free safety Michael Brooks was among those feeling the heat of training camp.

An All-Eastern Division free safety in the Canadian Football League last season, Brooks will be fighting for his starting job when Baltimore closes the preseason against the Birmingham Barracudas Saturday in Miami.

His job security is threatened by the emergence of Lester Smith, a reserve a year ago whose biggest contribution was returning punts.

Smith helped his cause with three tackles against Ottawa, making a mark where coach Don Matthews most wanted to see it.

"Lester seems to be more comfortable filling the lane on runs," said Matthews, "and Mike has more experience in making calls to change formations."

Fine-tuning a Grey Cup defense, Baltimore coaches want better run support from their safety this year.

"When you can [hold] a 22-yard run to a 10- or 12-yard gain, that's a big difference," said defensive coordinator Bob Price. "At that position, that's what we're trying to improve on this year."

Brooks was fourth on the team with 47 tackles last season, when he started every game. Splitting time with Smith Saturday, he was credited with just one special teams tackle. In competition with two 24-year-olds -- Smith and Jaime Mendez -- Brooks, 28, figures last year should count for something this summer.

"Lester and Jaime are good ballplayers," he said. "[But] I think I am the best safety in the league. I think I proved that last year. I played six games with a broken hand. If they think I'm the weak link in the secondary, some other teams out there will want me.

"I've been in the league long enough to know when to turn it up. It's kind of sad when you're one of two players who make the All-Star team and have to prove yourself every snap in camp."

Brooks, who spent two seasons in the NFL, has the advantage of experience, critical in calling formations. Smith, meanwhile, has been a run-stopper since his days at The Citadel.

"I've always been involved in a lot of tackles at free safety," Smith said. "I like filling against the run. A lot of times guys would underestimate me because of my size [5 feet 11, 180 pounds]."

Smith made 19 tackles -- including 14 on special teams -- in 11 games last year. If he wins the starting free safety job, it's unlikely Baltimore would keep Brooks as the backup. In that case, Mendez probably would fill the reserve role.

"Lester does very well at making the [formation] calls," Price said. "Mike is an old veteran who lends himself to a lot of parts of the defense. The difference is, I don't know as much about Lester. But I've got confidence in both guys."

NOTES: Matthews will move fullback Reggie Perry to a starting slotback position ahead of Mike Alexander and injured Joe Washington this week. Washington and defensive halfback Mike Jones will miss a week to 10 days with hamstring pulls. . . . Courtney Griffin (one knockdown, one tackle) gained ground against James Bullock (no knockdowns, no tackles) in the battle for the backup cornerback job. . . . Matthews said Grant Carter, who tipped a pass, and Jock Jones, who had three sacks, are running neck-and-neck at strong-side defensive end. . . . The team is off today and will practice tomorrow at noon at Towson State. With his roster at 56, Matthews must cut at least one player today to reach the league's limit of 55.

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