NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
Wide receivers can take Brandon Browner downfield, but they have to take at least five yards from him first.
It is there that the former Denver Bronco, Calgary Stampeder and Seattle Seahawk has overpowered his undrafted expectations. And it is because, right off the snap, his 6’4”, 221-pound frame has kept teammates close and opponents closer.
Three Canadian Football League All-Star Games and one National Football League Pro Bowl have been the byproduct for the cornerback. And 10 interceptions, 39 pass deflections and 117 tackles have been registered in his name since his inaugural start for Seattle in September of 2011.
Over the last two seasons, though, 12 missed regular-season games have also been registered. Browner was suspended for the first four games of 2012 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Then in 2013, he lost time with a hamstring injury before being suspended indefinitely for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Sitting out the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run, there was a possibility that Browner would never log another down in the NFL.
“For the last few months, my future has been in a dark place,” Browner said during his conference call with the media on March 17.
His violations dated back to 2005 in some capacity, and his opportunity for free agency loomed under a cloud of uncertainty. Yet on March 4, much of that uncertainty dissipated. Browner was reinstated by the NFL after seeing his year-long ban shortened to four games.
He reached a three-year, $17 million agreement with the New England Patriots 10 days later, joining prized free-agent acquisition Darrelle Revis in the process.
“To be able to play with that guy, it will be fun,” Browner said of Revis. “He’s actually the only guy I asked to trade and exchanged a jersey with. That’s the kind of respect that guy’s gained. I just look forward to playing and playing alongside him and the rest of those guys up in New England.”
Now unlike Revis, Browner won’t be on the field for the first month of New England’s 2014 campaign. But his physical method of impact is likely to keep him on it from then on.
The 29-year-old illustrated why during his eight-game sample size last season, as 16 receivers combined for 20 receptions, 240 yards and two touchdowns against his jurisdiction.
Whether it was press-man, off-man or zone, Browner proved that those initial steps off the line of scrimmage are vital to those final steps before the catch. For the pass may never come to fruition.
In addition to stifling releases at the snap, Browner dictated the course of action beyond it during his tenure with the Seahawks. In doing so, he proved that the limit can be stretched beyond the bounds of an invisible line.
To Browner – whose two illegal contact, five holding, and five pass-interference penalties once mounted into the second-most penalties in the league, according to The Football Database – the five-yard bubble is more of a suggestion than a rule.
It is a risk-reward manner in which he can test officials, receivers and even tight ends.
When Browner can force his hand underneath the pads of his target, his footwork allows him to stay in stride over the middle. And that has been the venue for him to funnel and dishevel assignments before eclipsing them.
At times, he resembles a sidecar tagging along for the ride.
At other times, he resembles a player who needs contact and an overhead safety to outlast the quick, hip-shifting cuts of opponents.
Sprints to the underneath and double moves back to the sideline have tested Browner’s change of direction, fluidity, zone responsibilities and press-bail technique.
Speed adjustments have presented a challenge as well.
But in some sense, his deficiencies are a double-edged sword.
Browner’s NFL Game Rewind film reveals an instinctual player who thrives in press and trusts what he sees in a route’s development. Although this can lead him to guess in the open field, it can also lead him to the right destination.
When he gets there, his size is not easily exploited. Neither is his anticipation. Browner is built for back-shoulder throws and jump-ball situations at the boundary. This is gleaned even when he doesn’t see the ball depart from the quarterback’s hand.
He reacts quickly. Then he enforces the catch point.
Although Browner can get turned around on vertical patterns, he typically shows enough straight-line gallop to recover. Predominantly, however, he shows enough edge to close on the ball. And although the tie goes to the runner, No. 39 knows how to impose by splitting his arm between his opponent’s hands just as the ball arrives.
Part of that is innate, and part of that is well-traveled experience.
These kinds of deep-ball plays may be close calls. They will inevitably give way to a handful of yellow flags over the course of a season. Even so, that comes with the territory of unleashing a linebacker-sized corner into man-to-man matchups.
Browner defends pass-catchers of all sizes and all strengths. And whether it’s Reggie Wayne, Owen Daniels, Roddy White, Patrick Peterson, Kendall Wright, Vincent Jackson or Cecil Shorts, he takes on each one with the same nature.
He doesn’t leave much to take.