The last time linebacker Keith Brooking got close up to John Elway, the Denver Broncos were celebrating their Super Bowl win over his Atlanta Falcons for their 2nd straight title.
“That’s the very 1st thing I mentioned to him,” Brooking expounded after the 15th-year veteran signed with the Broncos.”I was like, ‘By the way, I haven’t forgotten ‘98. ‘”
The 36-year-old Brooking was a wide-eyed rookie back then. He has been to 5 Pro Bowls since but hasn’t gotten back to the Super Bowl.
Elway led Denver to a 34-19 win in the last game of his Hall of fame career. They won only one playoff game in the following dozen years before he returned in a front office role last year.
Brooking went on to play another decade in Atlanta before a 3-year stint in Dallas.
He has played in all 16 regular-season games for 11 successive years, starting all of them in nine of those seasons. But he started just 3 games last year, when he was supplanted by Sean Lee.
Brooking recorded 34 tackles in 2011, his lowest total since 21 in his newbie season, but that didn’t frighten off the Broncos.
“We had him in for a workout and thought he looked outstanding,” Coach John Fox said.
“I’m excited, man,” Brooking expounded. “It’s clearly a good spot to be. I think this team is about to make a run, and I am very excited to be a small part of it.” NFL scores
Brooking said that he was tempted in to Denver by the opportunity to work alongside Fox, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and QB Peyton Manning, whom he called “arguably the best that’s ever played this game.”
Brooking stated that he would work at both weakside and strongside linebacker with the Broncos, which could spell difficulty for 2nd-year pros Nate Irving and Mike Mohamed as they fight for roster spots. Brooking also isn’t averse to making his mark on special teams: “I’m not so big for that, although I’ve been in this league a long time.”
Brooking’s 1st action won’t come until Saturday, giving him an opportunity to really get acclimated.
“I haven’t been in the offseason program, so I’d be lying to you if I said that I was in game shape and ready to go,” he claimed. “But my legs feel really nice; they have still got pop in them. … I had a lot of blows to the head and 1 or 2 surgeries. I am not what I was 8 years ago, but relatively speaking, my body feels really good.”
Also available for the 1st time Monday was free agent safety Jim Leonhard, who signed Saturday but is still getting over offseason knee surgery and hasn’t been cleared to suit up yet.
Leonhard is a 7-year veteran who spent the past three seasons emerging as a fan favorite with the Jets, who didn’t sign him in the offseason after he went through surgery in December to repair a tendon in his right knee.
The injury typically takes between 8 and 10 months to heal, and Leonhard said he was eager to pass his physical.