Brooks Named NFL Defensive Player Of The Year

January 8 – UPDATED: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year on Wednesday. Brooks, who is just the third Buccaneer to win the award, led the league's No. 1 ranked defense in tackles with 170. Brooks also led the NFL with three interception returns for touchdowns and his four touchdowns on turnovers tied him for second-most in a season in NFL history.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden said last week that he would be "shocked" if Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks did not win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. So, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to Gruden Wednesday when Brooks did in fact receive the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

"First of all, I just thank God for this award," Brooks said on Monday evening. "I just feel so gracious because our defense has played well. And to be the considered the best out of the whole league, out of these 11 guys here, is really humbling. I just, obviously, would like to thank my teammates and my coaches. Without these guys, none of this would be possible. We always talk about greatness and the last time a linebacker won this award, he went on to win a Super Bowl. And that was Ray Lewis. So hopefully, that will be the case here."

Brooks led Tampa Bay's defense in tackles (170) for the fifth consecutive season. Brooks' three interception returns for touchdowns led the NFL and his four touchdowns on turnovers tied him for second-most in a single season in league history.

"The touchdowns early and the turnovers, it was at the right place at the right time," Brooks said. "Just breaking on the quarterback. That's just an element of my game I was missing last year (that) I was able to regain. And the speed aspect. Time and time again I talked (last season) about a play five yards out of my range that my teammates were used to me making and I wasn't making it. I think they saw that when I came back in June, that I was back because I broke up a couple passes. (That) really kind of proved to myself that I was over that injury and ready to go."

In addition to his one sack and one fumble recovery, Brooks finished the regular season with career-highs in interceptions (five) and passes defensed (15).

Tampa Bay's 1995 first-round draft selection out of Florida State was one of five Bucs defenders to receive AP All-Pro honors last week. He was voted to his sixth straight Pro Bowl last month and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month in October, which is why some people, including Bucs linebackers coach Joe Barry, feel Brooks has had the best season of his career in '02.

"Derrick had an unbelievable year, and it was from the preseason all the way through," said Barry. "He really had something to prove this year, he was wired and he was a man possessed this year. He played as hard as anybody.

"The guy loves football and he is truly driven to be the best player at his position and also on defense. He went out with an attitude every week this year and he played his tail off. I don't think it was his ultimate goal to be the (defensive) MVP this year, but that's just the way Derrick is. Derrick wants to be the best. You guys all know him – he doesn't gloat about it, he's not arrogant about it, he doesn't talk about it, he doesn't say it. But deep down, that's what drives Derrick Brooks. He wants to be the best."

It was fitting for a player from the league's top-ranked overall defense to receive the Defensive Player of the Year award, but Brooks is only the third Buccaneer in franchise history to receive the honor. Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon received the award in 1979 and defensive tackle Warren Sapp accepted the honor in 1999.

Brooks played an integral part in helping Tampa Bay's defense rank first in the league in overall defense, pass defense, fewest points per game (12.3) and interceptions (31).

"I would've been totally shocked if he hadn't won that award," Gruden said Monday. "He's had an unbelievable season. He's been on a great defensive club from start to finish and he's a premier playmaker in the NFL. He got what he deserved. That's what we try to say all along – ‘You get what you deserve.' I really do truly believe he deserves that award."

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