LSU's Brockers loves to disrupt opponents

By Jim Kleinpeter

New Orleans Times-Picayune

At 6 feet 6 and 310 pounds, LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers is monster-sized, even by college football standards. That's why he plays where he does, waging battle with other similarly sized behemoths while helping make the Tigers the unanimous No. 1 team in the country. Teammates say the defense, ranked among the top five in the nation in five major categories, starts with the havoc Brockers creates.

But there also is the monster that lurks within -- the Cookie Monster -- which might be Brockers' only weakness. As good a season as he's having as a first-year starter, he's still fighting the battle of the bulge, with cookies one of his main enemies.

"I'm a sugar fiend. I have a sweet tooth," Brockers, a sophomore from Houston, said, laughing. "I love cookies, but don't tell [defensive line] Coach [Brick Haley] I said that. I'm not supposed to be eating them."

Too late. Haley is on to him. Brockers particularly likes the cookies served at the Lod Cook Hotel, where LSU (11-0, 7-0 SEC) stays on the eve of home games. Haley found a stash in his room during a recent bed check.

"We were all upset. All my roommates were all upset," Brockers said. "Everything healthy is gross. But I guess I've got to do what I have to do to do good things for this team."

Coaches and teammates will tolerate a cookie or two as long as Brockers keeps producing. Going into Friday's game against No. 3 Arkansas (10-1, 6-1), he's ninth on the team with 36 tackles and third with 7 1/2 tackles for losses, including two sacks. But it's not so much the numbers he produces as the havoc he creates.

From the start of the season against Oregon, Brockers has stepped in admirably to do what departed senior Drake Nevis did last season -- penetrate and disrupt plays, scattering runners in all directions to be picked off by Tiger teammates.

Against Ole Miss, he set up the Tigers' third touchdown when he split a double team and sacked quarterback Barry Brunetti for a 12-yard loss at the Rebels' 2-yard line. Teammate Kevin Minter recovered a fumble in the end zone on the next play. On another play, he fended off a blocker with one arm and tackled running back Brandon Bolden for no gain.

It's teammates such as Minter and safety Brandon Taylor who know best that good defense starts up front and that Brockers has helped everyone's numbers.

"That's where our turnovers and interceptions come from, when they get pressure on the quarterback," Taylor said. "It leads to mistakes by the quarterback. We give a lot of thanks.

"Brock actually takes up two gaps in the running game, him and Bennie [Logan]. That leaves a lot of room for the linebackers to run freely and make a lot of big plays."

Brockers' development has been one of the key elements in LSU's defensive play. Although he was the third tackle in the rotation last season and played a significant number of snaps, he only occasionally displayed Nevis-type ability.

In the offseason, Brockers said he worked hard to get his weight down and improve his technique. He then hit the ground running against Oregon with five tackles, clogging  up the backfield to help hold Ducks star running back LaMichael James to 54 yards rushing. On one play, Brockers pushed an Oregon offensive lineman backward until he collided with James, while a teammate swooped in for the tackle.

"Last year, I feel I came into my own," Brockers said. "I started to learn from Drake and Pep [Levingston] what I had to do to get into the backfield, what I had to do to be a progressive player, make plays.

"I felt I had to get better over the summer, get motivated and hungry, change my technique and lose weight to be an amazing player. LSU is known for defensive linemen, so I feel like I want to keep that tradition going."

Brockers came to LSU from Houston's Chavez High School as a 245-pound four-star defensive end with a strong work ethic and no weight issues. His mother, Tiffany Brockers, only let her four children eat sweets on special occasions and Brockers regularly put in full work days on the family farm in Brenham, Texas, feeding the livestock, cutting grass or tilling the soil.

"He was no stranger to hard work," Tiffany Brockers said.

When he got to LSU, defensive coordinator John Chavis could see he was destined to be a 300-pounder, with or without cookies. He was moved inside to tackle and redshirted, although he didn't just stand around and watch. Chavis made sure he got quality snaps in practice and it aided his development.

"If you don't, they don't develop nearly as fast," Chavis said. "He did a good job of handling that and played a good bit of football last year, as much as anybody else at that position. He could have played outside [at end], but your body is going to do what it's going to do. When you get on a program and start lifting weights the way you want to lift, eating the way you should eat, your body will grow.

"He's a student of the game. He understands what we're doing scheme-wise and what his responsibility is within the scheme. All those things, along with talent, has helped him be productive."

Brockers revels in the team's success, yet still makes enough plays to get noticed occasionally. LSU is No. 3 in the nation in rushing defense (89.6 yards per game) and No. 2 in total defense (247.9).

"I just feel like I've been a real good team player," he said. "There's a lot more, better defensive tackles out there. I do what I have to do to make this team win, let linebackers scrape over and make plays. I don't try to go out there and get every sack."

Unless it's a sack of cookies. But Brockers is good-natured about his plight. He said he'd like to get down to about 295 pounds and it's going to be hard on Thursday.

"I'm going to eat healthy," he said. "It's Thanksgiving and I can't eat like I want to eat. I have to put one goal in mind, which is to win a national championship, and I'm doing this for the team."