Ahmad Brooks was working out at 49ers headquarters Tuesday when he got the news that a new contract extension with the team had been finalized. His whereabouts had everything to do with why the 49ers felt comfortable signing Brooks, an outside linebacker whose commitment had been questioned in the past, to a six-year deal worth $44.5 million overall, including $17 million guaranteed.
In previous years, Brooks would head back to Virginia where he grew up and where he became a high-school star, but where his craft wasn't his No. 1 priority. Brooks' conditioning would lapse and he'd report to training camp overweight.
In 2010, however, Brooks went through an awakening. His father, former NFL defensive lineman Perry Brooks, passed away that March, and soon after Brooks re-dedicated himself to football. "I realized that I'm not 23, 24 years old anymore," said Brooks, who turns 28 next month. "You grow up and you start seeing things in a different light. My career is here in California."
Brooks entered the league in 2006 through the supplemental draft after being kicked off the University of Virginia football team. He was selected in the third round by the Bengals, who used the 6-3, 259 pounder as an inside linebacker.
The 49ers claimed him off of waivers in 2008 and eventually switched him to outside linebacker. But the coaching staff at the time didn't think much of Brooks' preparation or his ability to digest and understand the defense and used him only as a situational rusher in 2009 and 2010.
Brooks said coaches - he declined to name which - told him he couldn't learn the defense. "There were a few coaches who told me that personally," he said.
This past season was different. Incoming defensive coordinator Vic Fangio gave Brooks a starting assignment from Day 1, and Brooks came through with the best year of his career. He started all 16 regular season games and both postseason games at left outside linebacker, setting career-highs in tackles (59) and sacks (seven). Brooks played 944 of 1,014 defensive snaps, the fourth most on the team.
Last week general manager Trent Baalke said it's safe to assume that 2011 first-round draft pick Aldon Smith, who was used primarily as a third-down pass-rush specialist, will move into a starting position in 2012. That means the team has its two starters at the position signed long term - Smith through 2014 and Brooks through 2017.
Last year the 49ers signed the defender Brooks plays beside, defensive end Ray McDonald, to a five-year contract. Brooks said his comfort in Fangio's system and with his talented teammates were the primary reasons he wanted to remain with San Francisco. "I can mess up, but Ray can make me look good - as if I didn't mess up," he said of McDonald, who was one of Brooks' workout partners on Tuesday.
While other positions, such as receiver, safety and cornerback, promise to be deep when free agency begins March 13, outside linebacker will be relatively bare, which worked in Brooks' favor. The team carried only three outside linebackers last season and has three - Parys Haralson is the third -- under contract now. They could add more players at the position for depth, but with Brooks and Smith locked in, it no longer is a primary need.
Brooks said he felt no impetus to test his worth on the open market. "Something was telling me to sign here," he said. "I feel like this is where I should be. These are the people who gave me a chance to go out there and get this contract."
-- Matt Barrows