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Need meets desire
The Seahawks were looking to get bigger at the cornerback position. Brandon Browner was looking to get back in the NFL after spending four seasons in the CFL.
Don’t look now, but the confluence of this need-meets-desire situation has been on the team’s training camp practice fields. The 6-foot-4, 221-pound Browner isn’t just playing right cornerback – at times with the No. 1 unit opposite Marcus Trufant, at other times on the No. 2 unit – he’s making plays.
As defensive coordinator Gus Bradley put it, “We’ve been looking for big corners. Brandon definitely is that, and he can cover.”
That was jarringly apparent Thursday night in the preseason opener against the Chargers in San Diego. Twice, Browner was matched up with Laurent Robinson. Twice, Browner broke up deep passes intended for the 6-2 receiver who played for the St. Louis Rams last season.
Heavy emphasis on broke up. Browner’s coverage was so tight – not to mention physical – that he was almost sharing Robinson’s No. 11 jersey.
“Yes, he can cover,” said Kris Richard, the former Seahawks cornerback who is now coaching the defensive backs. “He has attributes that are uncommon. Typically a guy that size, you would think he’d have trouble getting in and out of breaks. But Brandon has shown the ability to get in and out of breaks.
“So the attributes that you look for in a corner, you’re finding. He’s been a pleasant surprise.”
Browner’s arrival in Seattle – he was signed to a future contract in late January, before the 136-day lockout started – comes with the seemingly obligatory Carroll Connection. Coach Pete Carroll not only recruited Browner when he was coaching at USC, Browner committed to the Trojans.
“I was a late qualifier with my grades, so they backed out at the end,” Browner said.
That’s how Browner ended up at Oregon State, where he was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in 2003 and finished his two-season stay with 87 tackles and six interceptions. The Denver Broncos signed him as a rookie in 2005, but he spent his rookie season on injured reserve and was released after training camp in 2006.
That’s how he got to the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL. Browner was an all-league selection the past three seasons, and had a career-high five interceptions last year. A return to the CFL was there, if he wanted, but Browner wanted another shot at the NFL.
“I was up there for four years, trying to get back every season,” he said. “It just happened to work out here in Seattle.”
The CFL had its advantages for a corner trying to hone his skills. The field is larger and receivers have the “waggle” advantage that allows them to get a running start before the ball is snapped.
“That’s pretty tough when you’ve got a receiver running at you with a 10-yard head start,” Browner said. “It kept me on my toes.”
Did it help with his transition back to the NFL? “Nothing can really help,” he said, “because this is the best of the best. All these guys are fast here. So the only thing that can help is by continuing to play ball and continuing to compete.”
Browner wanted to compete at this level sooner rather than later, but the best he could get during his exile in the CFL was workouts with NFL teams.
“It seemed they always passed on me,” he said. “It’s always been that way. Seattle was the one that helped me sign a deal, so I’m here and I’m happy to be here.”
Yes, Browner was beginning to wonder if it would ever workout. Yes, he realizes this is likely his last chance to play in the NFL.
“I felt like after this past season if I didn’t make it down here I’d probably lock in (in the CFL) for financial stability,” he said.
Browner isn’t in this alone. He has two boys – Matthew, 4; and McCoy, who will be 1 next week; and a girlfriend, Marin Foster.
“I’m a family-oriented guy,” he said. “I don’t go out much. I like having my family around me. They moved to Canada with me, and they’ll be moving up here if I happen to make the team.”
If Browner continues to play in the remaining preseason games the way he played against the Chargers, the house-hunting will commence the first weekend in September – after the final roster cut to 53 players.
Which brings us back to his size and skills, which will be on display again Saturday night when the Seahawks host the Minnesota Vikings in their preseason home opener at CenturyLink Field. Normally, a player as big as Browner gets moved to safety.
“They tried that in Denver,” he said. “But I’m an athlete. I like to compete. I’ve been that way since Day One. Since I was a child, I’ve never looked at myself any different. I’m just realizing as I got older what my abilities are – I’m a big guy and I use my physicality against some of these guys.
“But I always looked at as if I was just another one of the corners. I can compete and make plays just like everyone else. I’m just a little taller.”
The Seahawks’ scavenger hunt for bigger corners also prompted them to select 6-3 Richard Sherman (fifth round) and 6-1 Byron Maxwell (sixth) in NFL Draft in April. But Browner has an advantage because he has played professionally.
“He’s not experienced in the NFL,” Richard said. “But it’s not his first rodeo.”
Maybe that’s why he was treating Robinson like a bull that needed to be wrestled to the ground in San Diego.
“I play pretty physical,” he said. “That’s my game. I’ve got to use what I’ve got. My tools. I’m a 6-4 guy, 220 pounds. You don’t many corners with my size, so I’ve got to use what I’ve got.”
The Seahawks are happy to oblige.