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Terrence Brooks still believes he can be a long-term playmaker in Ravens secondary

Baltimore Ravens free safety Terrence Brooks (31) warms up before the first half of an NFL football preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, in Atlanta.
Baltimore Ravens free safety Terrence Brooks (31) warms up before the first half of an NFL football preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, in Atlanta. (Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

The earliest editions of this year's NFL mock drafts have the Ravens selecting a defensive playmaker in the secondary with their sixth overall pick, something they and many on the outside thought they had in 2014 third-round pick Terrence Brooks.

When Brooks was selected, Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz called Brooks "a versatile guy who's got cover skills, range and ball skills." The front office noted that he also played cornerback in his time at Florida State.

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But in the two years since, Brooks, who is one of the more impressive athletes on the team, has struggled to be a part of the Ravens defense. He spent his sophomore season coming back from injury and needing practice reps to earn the coaches' trust, but never seemed to be able to win them over. When the 2015 Ravens were together for the final time at locker cleanout earlier this month, Brooks said he still believes he can be a starter in the NFL.

"It just takes me pretty much doing whatever it takes to just get out on the field, whether that's playing harder in practice or doing this much more in the game," Brooks said. "It really just revolves around that, but for the most part, as a safety, you've got to be the quarterback of the defense.

"You've got to get that trust of the coordinator [Dean Pees] and your coaches and things like that, and I can't blame anyone else but me for that situation. I'm just going to take that into the offseason and really have a chip on my shoulder and do what I'm supposed to do."

Brooks spent part of his rookie year in a safety rotation with Darian Stewart, Will Hill, Jeromy Miles and Matt Elam, showing athleticism but also enduring a pair of difficult moments that led to touchdowns in Week 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals and Week 12 against the New Orleans Saints.

His rookie season ended when he tore his ACL and MCL in December, but he worked hard to be back for training camp. That, more than anything he accomplished on the field, was a point of pride for Brooks.

"I felt like I definitely accomplished some great things this year, recovering from the injury I had over the past year and really set myself up to just go into my third year physically feeling really [good]," he said.

But his on-field contributions diminished this season. He played defensive snaps in six of 16 games, and was inactive for four because of a combination of a thumb injury and coaches' decision.

When he did play, Brooks was most impactful as the substitute nickel cornerback in Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns. He said that's when he felt like he was in the best position to succeed as a player.

"I really got a grasp playing nickel," Brooks said. "I really like the nickel position just because of the blitzing and dropping in coverage and being kind of a spy guy, also. But for the most part, I know safety is my strong point right now and I know that's something on this team where I can contribute at and do very well at it. Just getting the trust of [coach John] Harbaugh and all like that would be good."

The Ravens have a crowded safety group entering 2016, with incumbent starters Kendrick Lewis and Hill under contract, Lardarius Webb set to move there full-time, plus Brooks and Elam both waiting in reserve. Elam tore his biceps this preseason and didn't play.

Brooks could carve out a niche as a hybrid box safety who plays some linebacker the way Deone Bucannon has for the Arizona Cardinals. But however they're utilized, the incumbents at that position know it will be a different and more improved group because of the depth.

"He's a very talented guy, has all the intangibles to play the position," Lewis said of Brooks at locker cleanout day. "Early on when I first got here, he was coming off of his ACL injury, and he finally got into his groove. I look forward to an offseason of him coming back out here and us coming back and being ready to compete. That's what it's going to be, a roster full of competition. When you've got a roster like that, it makes the team better."

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