James Brooks wears an affable smile and never loses his polite attitude off the field.
But once the 195-cm, 123-kg defensive lineman gets on the field, he becomes a guy who forces offensive coordinators to shape their game plan around combating him.
The IBM BigBlue will need to see the warrior side of Brooks on Monday if they are to defend their Pearl Bowl title against the Obic Seagulls at Tokyo Dome in the final of the Eastern Japan spring tournament.
“(Brooks) brings the most aggressive pass rush we have seen in the three games in this tournament. We need to improve our pass protection,” Obic head coach Naoki Kosho said. “It is the issue the whole offense has to work on.”
Brooks moves around the defensive line before unleashing bull rushes, spin moves or hand techniques to rush the quarterback.
Against the Nojima Sagamihara Rise in the semifinals earlier this month, Brooks helped the BigBlue shut down Devin Gardner, who previously in the tournament rushed for four touchdowns and threw for another against the defending national champion Fujitsu Frontiers, holding the former Michigan quarterback to one touchdown each on the ground and in the air.
“With the good players like Devin Gardner, you can’t really contain them. You have to just try to do your best to stop them,” Brooks told The Japan Times. “They’re gonna make the big plays and it happens, but you have to do your best to limit the big plays. Devin made some great plays against us, but we kept it to the minimum and that was the key.”
Now Brooks faces rookie Seagulls quarterback Ikaika Woolsey, a University of Hawaii product. Woolsey’s strong arm completed 29 of 44 passes for 558 yards and three touchdowns against the Asahi Beer Silver Star last month, with his longest pass reaching 63 yards.
“(Woolsey) is definitely a good player. We’ll have a better idea of how to try to stop him (after film study). I know he’s a good player, so looking forward to the test,” Brooks said. “I think the strategy (against Woolsey) is similar (to the one against Gardner), but at the same time it is different, because he has more playmakers around him. I think they have a better core team than the Rise right now. So with Obic, you can’t just focus on one player because they have many good players.”
One member of Woolsey’s supporting cast is Shingo Maeda, who has recorded 227 yards and four touchdowns on seven catches in three games. The Seagulls also have veteran receivers Noriaki Kinoshita and Ryoma Hagiyama, who were part of the Seagulls’ four straight national titles from 2010-13.
IBM head coach Shinzo Yamada, however, is more concerned about the Seagulls’ defense, which has allowed only two touchdowns this spring.
“Their defense is so good that their opponents can’t establish their offensive rhythm. Their defensive line puts on a lot of pressure and doesn’t allow the offense to make plays,” Yamada said. “Their defense is stingy and their offense gets scores. You’ll find yourself falling behind and forced to catch up. That’s the negative spiral that the teams who play the Seagulls find themselves in.”
Kevin Jackson, Byron Beatty Jr. and Keizaburo Isagawa lead the defense.
Yuki Masamoto, meanwhile, has a chip on his shoulder. Usually a backup to ex-UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft in fall, Masamoto has started all three games for the BigBlue so far and Yamada hopes Masamoto can help the team retain the championship that it earned for the first time in club history with Craft playing most of the games last spring.
Masamoto was 31 of 48 for 424 yards while throwing five touchdown passes and one interception. Craft played some snaps in all three games, but it was Masamoto who mainly commanded the offense.
Masamoto has several options to throw to, with seven different receivers scoring at least one touchdown this spring.
“We will go with Masamoto as starting quarterback. We hope he’ll get used to the atmosphere of Tokyo Dome,” said Yamada, whose team will likely play Obic again in the season-opener this fall at the same venue. “Masamoto can run, but we cannot rely too much on his legs. How we play against their defensive line is the key to the game.”
The BigBlue are aiming to become the first team since the 2008-09 Kajima Deers to win back-to-back Pearl Bowl crowns, while the Seagulls are aiming to extend their record number of titles to six.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.