New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - While milling around Radio Row at the Super Bowl XLVIII Media Center this week I ran into a well known former NFL defensive back and I asked him his thoughts on the cover-2 defense for a Peyton Manning-related story I was working on.
"My 14-year-old kid knows how to attack the cover-2," he joked.
My retort was "what took him so long?"
I should have added something, though -- unless Derrick Brooks is involved.
It's rare when a man makes the defense but if one ever did, it was the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker, who was of seven ex-players chosen to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014 on Saturday night.
Brooks was joined by Michael Strahan, Andre Reed, Walter Jones, Aeneas Williams, Claude Humphrey and Ray Guy in the Class of 2014 headed for enshrinement in Canton. Humphrey and Guy were Veterans Committee candidates.
Brooks was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection (winning Pro Bowl MVP honors in 2005), a first-team All-Pro five teams along with three more second-team honors, and was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
His career ceiling was in 2002 when Brooks was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year as the leader of one of the best defenses in NFL history, one that carried the Buccaneers all the way to their first Super Bowl championship. Brooks scored four defensive touchdowns that season as the Buccaneers allowed just 12.3 points per game, No. 1 in the NFL. In Super Bowl XXXVII, he added a fifth touchdown to help seal Tampa Bay's 48-21 rout of the Oakland Raiders.
The biggest indictment of the cover-2 defense is simple, you need a player like Brooks to pull it off.
First a history lesson.
The Tony Dungy "Tampa-2" is actually a misnomer. Dungy actually created his famous defensive philosophy in Minneapolis as a way to mask deficiencies under Dennis Green in the early 1990s. The coach had inherited a great pass-rushing defensive line with the Vikings which included Hall of Famers Chris Doleman and John Randle along with stud nose tackle Henry Thomas, but little in the secondary.
So, much like a basketball coach with an excellent shot-blocker behind slow- footed perimeter players -- Dungy hid his weakness with a zone. An excellent move at the time because the NFL hadn't morphed into Arena Football-lite and still allowed things like coverage to be viable defensive strategies.
But, the thing never evolved as the league changed and Dungy's Minnesota cover-2 in 1992 was virtually the exact same scheme that finally got him a Super Bowl ring in 2007 with Indianapolis, and the same one the Vikings and Dallas Cowboys ran this season.
When the parts were truly great, Dungy's defenses were terrific. In Tampa, Tony had Hall of Fame-level talent on all three tiers, Warren Sapp on the defensive line, Brooks at linebacker and John Lynch in the secondary. When injuries took out Bob Sanders in Indy and players like Raheem Brock, Rob Morris and Antoine Bethea were expected to be the headliners, things changed rather quickly.
In today's offensively-tinted world no team can afford to sit in a cover-2 scheme for an entire game although Minnesota and Dallas were considered "Tampa-2" teams in 2013, and finished at the bottom of the defensive rankings.
Critics call the scheme antiquated because it makes things far too easy for cerebral quarterbacks like Manning. If Peyton is playing against a cover-2 team he already knows where defenders will be lined up in July, never mind January, so he can generate what he considers a mismatch at will. Meanwhile, so many other signal callers are far more accurate these days, making it like a glorified 7-of-7 drill for the truly special ones.
The cover-2 also spawns selfish defensive lineman who chuckle at alignment and assignment responsibilities and are prone to freelancing. It breeds indecision while sapping the confidence out of young defensive backs used to relying on man coverage skills on campus. In fact, having an aging player who is a sure tackler is more important in the cover-2 than having a Richard Sherman- or Darrelle Revis-type, who can shut down one side of the football field.
Perhaps the most untenable aspect of the scheme, however, is at the second level where you need a drop linebacker in the mold of Brooks.
And until science gets that cloning thing up to speed, forget about acquiring one of those.
A first ballot, no-brainer Hall of Famer, Brooks will enter Canton as one of the few players who legitimately defines his position.
"He's the most complete linebacker I've ever seen -- and there's a big gap between him and whoever's next on that list." Steelers Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham told the Tampa Tribune.
One week Dungy might have asked Brooks to stop Barry Sanders before pivoting and telling his All-Pro to chase Cris Carter or Jake Reed in coverage down the field. In another seven days Brooks might have been asked to shadow a mobile quarterback like Michael Vick or Daunte Culpepper.
His responsibilities were so vast, it was almost ludicrous. Just ask good football players like Chad Greenway and Sean Lee, who weren't asked to do quite as much as Brooks in 2013 but were required to do more than any linebacker should because of the scheme they play.
The word "complete" could have been devised to describe Brooks as a football player.
"If Derrick Brooks doesn't get in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, something's wrong with the process," Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk said.
There's plenty wrong with the process Marshall but even a bunch of voters who fail to pay attention to players outside their own cities or don't understand what it means to be judged against your own contemporaries, and have a history of consistently getting it wrong couldn't screw this one up.
Brooks let the cat out of the bag a little early on Twitter.
"Thought of tonight is JOY, HUMILITY, and gratefulness, I'm in the Hall of Fame Now."
As if there was any doubt.
"No one is more deserving," said Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith, who was Brooks' position coach from 1996-2000. "I've had a chance to be around some great players and some are first-ballot Hall of Famers. There's nothing as a linebacker Derrick Brooks couldn't do and it's just good that other people acknowledge that also."