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SANTA CLARA -- One of the more intriguing aspects of covering a professional football player's career is being there when he gets it, the time he comes to understand exactly what is required for him to be successful at the NFL level.For some, the realization comes within the first two or three years in the league. Others take a few years more. For many, it doesn't come at all.When David Carr was with the 49ers, he told me he thought he knew how to prepare as an NFL quarterback. He believed he was doing everything necessary to be ready for a season. That realization came when he joined the New York Giants. Working with Eli Manning, Carr learned all that his position truly demanded. But by then, Carr said, it was too late. He was a seven-year veteran at the time and his starting opportunities were gone.Like Carr, Ahmad Brooks finally "got it" entering his seventh year in the league."I feel more of a professional now," Brooks said. "And once you get into the NFL you (don't) understand everything it takes to be a professional. I think I learned that over the course of years." What's unique about the 49ers outside linebacker's experience, is that his awareness came together after the best year of he career and after he signed a six year, 37 million contract extension with the team in February.Any off-field issues from early in Brooks' career have remained in the past. But he's made a few key changes over just the last few months. Gone from his diet are his favorite three-course meals home cooked by his mom. He avoided the temptation of her tasty dishes by spending his first offseason at the team facility rather than at his Virginia home. "You can get caught up in being complacent, just going home and not doing anything," Brooks said.Brooks replaced complacency with "initiative," his word, and decided to be with the teammates whom he felt were strong leaders. That included following the intense work out routines of defensive linemen Justin Smith and Ray McDonald and linebacker Tavares Gooden."I feel a lot more in shape on the field play to play just running to the ball. Feeling a little more swift out there," Brooks said.RELATED: Ahmad Brooks career stats 2011 game logs News
Brooks says his bench and squat are up from last season, as is his weight, 5 pounds to 270. But his body fat is down, to 16 percent, he estimates."The best shape of my life," Brooks said, "I dont necessarily think so, but my NFL career, yeah."Vic Fangio certainly hopes so. The defensive coordinator has made it clear he expects a big season from Brooks and believes he can bring more to the 49ers pass rush.The difference for Brooks this year, he believes he can, too.