The Rams village and the reckoning of Sean Taylor

THOUSAND OAKS (News4usonline) – Getting to a conference championship game and playing in the Super Bowl requires the village approach for an NFL football team. That includes everyone who makes the 53-man roster and players on the practice squad doing their part.

 

Antoine Brooks Jr. and Terrell Lewis are not household names to the average NFL fan. Yet. But eventually, the two reserve linebackers for the Los Angeles Rams may have an opportunity to earn that respect. 

For now, their role on the team is to serve as backups to Leonard Floyd, Von Miller, Justin Hollins, and Troy Reeder, players who have been mainstays all season long at the linebacker position for the Rams.

Brooks, who was signed to the Rams’ practice squad a couple of days after being waived by the Pittsburgh Steelers in September of last year, saw marginal action in two games during the regular season.

Los Angeles Rams linebacker Terrell Lewis (52) at work during a team practice. Photo by Mark Hammond/News4usonine

Activated to the active roster in November, Brooks is appreciative of just having the opportunity to be part of the ballclub.  

“I enjoy every minute of every day here,” Brooks said. “Everybody in here is trying to get better. Everybody is trying to do one thing, and that’s get to the Super Bowl. I’m excited. I just enjoy every minute, have fun, move fast and be correct on my assignments.”

Expectations for Lewis were high coming into the season. Those expectations have been tempered because the former Alabama star has missed time because of nagging injuries.   

Appearing in 12 games during the 2021 season, Lewis has seen his production and playing time falter because of those lingering health issues. He has been on the team’s inactive list since the Rams Dec. 13 game against the Arizona Cardinals. Whether it’s been injuries or just trying to fit into the way the Rams do things, it’s been an adjustment period for both Brooks and Lewis.

“I’m way more comfortable playing, way more comfortable knowing how to adjust to things in the NFL, and kind of knowing where I stand, knowing where I can improve on and knowing where my ceiling is,” Lewis said.

Despite the oddities of their respective journeys to the NFL, Brooks and Lewis give the Rams two young and bright prospects on the defensive side of the ball.     

The pathways to the NFL for Brooks and Lewis are similar yet very different. Both men hail from the DMV (Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) area. Brooks played quarterback and defensive at DuVal High School in Maryland.

Lewis prepped at St. John High School in Washington, D.C. The two schools are less than 20 miles apart from one another.    

Both Brooks and Lewis are in their second year in the league. Both starred at major college football programs before coming to the pros. Brooks was nabbed by the Steelers in the sixth round in the 2020 NFL Draft after playing his college ball at the University of Maryland.

Los Angeles Rams linebacker Antoine Brooks (39) pays attention to spinning football during a team training camp. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Lewis, drafted by the Rams in the third round in 2020, made a name for himself as a high-octane edge rusher for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. The commonalities don’t end there. 

Both Brooks and Lewis also like to thump opposing players, much like in the vein of the late, great Sean Taylor, whom they grew up admiring.

“I’ve been watching him since forever, ” Brooks said in a December 2021 interview. “For a person to use that size and his aggression…yeah, that’s how you’re supposed to play football. You don’t play football no other way. You play football head-on and nobody tells you what to do. At the end of the day, Sean, his passion, his electricity, everything about him, his emotion in the game, everything about him, I loved it. He was just so passionate.”   

Taylor starred for the Washington Redskins (now Washington Football Club) for four seasons before his career and life were tragically cut short after he was shot during a home invasion in 2007. Five men were later sentenced to prison in connection with Taylor’s murder.

“Losing him was a bad, bad thing for this world,” Brooks said. “I think that he probably was going to be the best safety in the world.”

For four seasons, Taylor roamed NFL football fields, going from sideline to sideline, bringing pain and trepidation from those daring and bold enough to cross his street in the secondary.

If you were a wide receiver or a ball carrier, you simply did not want to cross paths with Taylor. In the four seasons he played, Taylor earned a reputation as being the hardest-hitting player in the NFL.

“He meant a lot. He represented the heart of our city,” Lewis said. “When he passed away, I was one of those people that was at the stadium the next day, leaving flowers and things like that. He had a huge impact on kids like me and everybody because I feel like as a kid you can tell the players that come from the same environment that you come from.”

Taylor was so good at what he did that he was bestowed the moniker “Meast” (half-man, half-beast) for the ferocious style he played with. He did not get that nickname for baking pies.

In those four seasons with Washington, Taylor eclipsed what he did as a high school football star (Miami Killian High School and Gulliver Preparatory School) in the state of Florida.

The Miami area connection to Taylor also includes Rams running back Sony Michel (American Heritage High School) and wide receiver Tutu Atwell (Northwestern High School), both of whom grew up and played high school football in the shadow of the former NFL star.

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Taylor surpassed his collegiate exploits as an All-American at the University of Miami. In those short four seasons in Washington, not only was Taylor a big-time hitter, but he also entrenched himself as one of the best safeties in the entire NFL.

“I grew up in the [Washington] D.C. area so I always looked up to a Sean Taylor, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, guys like that,” Lewis said. “My position-wise, I watched everyone from DeMarcus Ware to guys like Von. LaVar Arrington is from my area, so watching all types of different pass rushers from all types of different teams, I just try to see ‘Okay, who can I grab this from? Do I match their body type? Do I have this in my skillset?’ Things like that.” 

During his short stint in the league, Taylor earned two Pro Bowl nods. Besides his growing stature as the game’s most lethal defensive player, Taylor moved the needle from being hailed as a legend to the revered by doing things that might otherwise come from mythic literature.  

“They say that he used to run to practice,” Brooks remarked. “That stuff is crazy. He used to leave his car and run back and forth to practice, which is insane.” 

Fourteen years after his life was taken, Taylor finally got his due from the team he once played for. The Washington Football Club retired Taylor’s jersey (No. 21) and renamed a road in his honor during a home game in Week 6 against the Kansas City Chiefs during the 2021 NFL season.     

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“Just seeing a guy like him go through adversity, year in and year out, but that same time be the highlight of a team, highlight of a defense, and you can see it that he left everything out on the field,” said Lewis. “He left his emotions out on the field and he played as a free person. You admire guys like that.”   

The scouting report on Brooks when he left Maryland was something that seemed to jump off the pages of the Taylor playbook.

Among the strengths that the former Maryland stalwart had going for himself was that he had the ability to blitz with a relentless motor, could “deliver violent blows on ball carriers,” can “knock the ball away aggressively or make a big hit,” and has a “big dog/alpha dog mentality,” according to the Steel City Underground website.

“I always try to make the fans love me as much as they love Sean,” Brooks said. “It’s not even about the fans. It’s about me, but at the end of the day, it’s about the people that’s watching. At the end of the day, they’re the ones that talk about you, tell who you are, and stuff like that. You have to know for yourself who you are.”

“It’s not really too much you can take from Sean Taylor,” Brooks added. “I ain’t 6-4 and 230 [pounds]. Other than that, I try to hit hard, try to do my correct assignments and try to take the ball out of the air every chance I get.”