Brooks is paying off for Bengals without incident-so far

By Joe Kay The Associated Press

CINCINNATI – The Bengals’ most recent gamble on a troubled draft pick is paying off for now.

The Bengals took middle linebacker Ahmad Brooks in the supplemental draft last July because they knew Odell Thurman was going to be suspended by the NFL for violating its substance abuse policy.

Thurman is out for the season and most likely will never play again for coach Marvin Lewis, who has taken away his locker and told him to stay away from the team. Brooks has taken over his spot.

Brooks started the last three games at middle linebacker and racked up 14, 8 and 9 tackles, along with one sack. He got the chance to play when Brian Simmons was sidelined by a sore neck.

“Ahmad works very hard at it,” Lewis said. “He’s very conscientious. We’ve been very pleased with how he’s embraced it, coming in and studying extra film all the time, asking very good questions and taking great notes.”

Brooks was a star at Virginia for three seasons, but was kicked off the team by coach Al Groh before spring practice this year. That prompted him to enter the NFL through the supplemental draft.

Six Bengals have been arrested and two have been suspended this year, so the team was setting itself up for more criticism by taking Brooks in the third round. There was a high immediate price – the Bengals had to give up a third-round pick in next April’s draft as compensation.

So far, he has stayed out of trouble and excelled on the field.

“It means a lot to him,” Lewis said. “Missing the opportunity to play early in the year, he knew he had to work. Nobody’s on scholarship around here and you’ve got to earn your opportunity, and he’s worked hard at it.”

Brooks said an injury last season that limited him to six games and the dismissal from Virginia’s team made an impression on him.

“When I wasn’t playing football, it kind of frustrated me and made me more eager to go out there and perform, to help my teammates out,” Brooks said. “I think it helped me realize what I had.”

Before he got into trouble at Virginia, Brooks was considered one of the nation’s top linebackers. He was first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference as a sophomore. He also was a finalist for the Butkus Award given to the nation’s top linebacker in 2004.

The Bengals took him even though they’d already started paying for the misdeeds of other draft picks.

Thurman, the team’s leading tackler as a rookie in 2005, was initially suspended for the first four games of the season for skipping a drug test. The NFL then suspended him for the entire season after he was arrested on a drunken driving charge after the third game of the season.

Receiver Chris Henry has been arrested four times since last December, with two cases resolved and two pending. He was benched for one game by Lewis and for two more games by the NFL for violating its policies.

Brooks has stayed out of trouble while taking a crash course in defense. With Simmons hampered by the neck injury, he has impressed Lewis with his ability to learn things fast.

“Football has kind of come easy to me,” Brooks said. “So that makes it a little easier for me to study the opponents. I transferred my learning from high school to college, college to the NFL. The studying definitely helps for Sunday.”