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PHILADELPHIA ? Success always came easy for Ahmad Brooks, so he was shocked and confused when he received word of his own failure.

?I never once thought I?d get cut,? Brooks said. ?I?ve always been one of the best players on my team. So having that feeling, I was sad.?

Brooks said he did not shed tears when he learned the Cincinnati Bengals had released him before the start of the 2008 season. But he did experience a visceral reaction from the rejection.

?I felt like crying,? Brooks said. ?It was like a girl just broke up with you in middle school ... heartbroken.?

The 49ers quickly grabbed Brooks on the rebound. Now, he?s an important part of the team?s defense as the 49ers look to remain in the NFC playoff picture today against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The 49ers had their eyes on Brooks from the time he entered the NFL supplemental draft in 2006 after then-Virginia coach Al Groh kicked him off the team that spring ? and it was too late for him to declare for the regular April draft.

The 49ers were prepared to select Brooks, but the Bengals grabbed him first.

After two injury-plagued seasons and some off-field issues ? including an accusation that he punched a woman in the face ? the Bengals gave up on Brooks.

?There are some things I could?ve done better,? Brooks said. ?I was young. Still am young (25), but I was learning. I know now what not to do. It was a devastating feeling, but I?m here. I?m happy. And I?m willing to continue to work.?

Brooks remained on the 49ers? roster all of last season and not once got into a game. Now he?s getting his chance, and he is taking advantage of the opportunity.

Brooks, whom the 49ers converted to outside linebacker/defensive end from inside linebacker, recorded three sacks in the 49ers? 24-9 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night. He ranks second on the team with five sacks.

?He brings a little speed,? Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said of the 6-foot-3, 259-pound Brooks. ?He has an excellent first step and burst. He showed that on Monday night.?

And Brooks still has plenty to learn.

?Ahmad came to us as an inside linebacker, not really a rush guy,? 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. ?But you begin to see the skill, the speed, the ability to come off the edge, and you go, ?Wow, we need to do something different here.? And, you put him on the outside and you think that might be the fit.?

Brooks has appeared to be a good fit with the 49ers after his stay with the Bengals. He came to the 49ers with the reputation of being a character risk, but Singletary said he is surrounded in the defensive line meeting room by teammates who set good examples, such as Justin Smith, Aubrayo Franklin and Parys Haralson.

?When he walks in that room, not only are the coaches on him, but those players are on him,? Singletary said. ?It?s like he?s got a lot of big brothers around here. I think when you come into a situation like ours where there are so many supportive guys, it really is a great situation for a young player to come in.?

Although Brooks might have seen his world temporarily shattered when the Bengals released him, Smith said it ultimately had a positive effect.

?He?s a good guy,? Smith said. ?He works hard and he?s getting his opportunity now and he?s capitalizing on it.

?He realized, too, once you get released once, you don?t get that many more opportunities. He realizes that. He?s matured a bunch since Cincinnati. He?s always had the talent. We saw that in Cincinnati.?

Brooks also demonstrated his maturity through last season when he continued to work in practice and stick with the program even while getting the weekly tap on his shoulder to be told his services would not be needed in the game.

?Patience is a virtue, and I?ve been very patient,? Brooks said. ?It?s time to let the dog loose. It?s time to let the cage open and show what I?m capable of doing.?

For more on the 49ers, go to Instant 49ers at blog.pressdemocrat.com/49ers. You can reach Staff Writer Matt Maiocco at matt.maiocco@press

democrat.com.