ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For linebacker Keith Brooking, the process of preparing for his 15th NFL season – and first as a Denver Bronco – is both physical and mental.
He took a major step on Saturday morning, as he wore pads and participated in full-contact drills for the first time since signing with the Broncos.
"It didn't feel great, but it felt good," Brooking said. "As far as my body adjusting to the altitude, it's going to take some time. But I felt like I had some decent pop in my legs and my body feels great overall."
But the bigger part of becoming game-ready is learning the Broncos' defensive playbook and terminology so that when the ball is snapped, no thinking is needed – just reacting.
"I've played in a lot of different schemes, positions," Brooking said. "I'm familiar with it but it's just the certain nuances of checks and things kind of change pre-snap when you're playing the linebacker position. You have to get a lot of guys in the right position. So certain things like that, I have to get to where it's second nature, where I can play fast, because I find myself thinking a little bit out there at times. You're not reacting instinctively like you need to as a linebacker."
As he continues his familiarization with the defense, Brooking plans to play a mentor-type role to the younger players in his unit. There are seven linebackers on the active roster with less than two years of NFL experience. Brooking has 14 years under his belt, and is one of 10 players left in the NFL from the 1998 draft class. To put things in perspective a little more – around the time Brooking was drafted into the NFL, Von Miller was turning 9 years old.
"For the young guys, I'm here for them and they can pick my brain all they want," Brooking said. "I have a lot of experience. I have a ton of plays in this league. I've seen it all."
Helping Brooking adapt to his new home will be two coaches on the defensive side of the ball with an NFL resume even deeper than his own.
Brooking said after his first practice that Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio, a former linebacker, will be "a lot of fun to play for."
Brooking raved about the respect he has for not only Del Rio, but also for Linebackers Coach Richard Smith, who evaluated Brooking before the '98 draft while Smith was a coach for the San Francisco 49ers.
"When you're in a new system, you're trying to learn everything that it takes to be successful out here when you get on the field," Brooking said. "Being a student of the game, having two guys like that with a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge will definitely help you out."
Brooking called his first practice "a decent first day," but it was spiced up a bit at the end when he was one of several players involved in a minor scuffle. When asked about it, Brooking laughed and said that it was "already forgotten about," promising he wasn't the one who started it.
"You should have seen me way back in the day," Brooking joked. "It was like four or five (scuffles) a day. I've calmed down a lot. I'm much smarter."