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Out of nowhere
Have you been impressed by Brandon Browner not only making the Seahawks’ 53-man roster, but moving into the starting lineup at right cornerback? You’re not alone.
Coach Pete Carroll was asked after practice on Monday to pick one player he is particularly excited about having on the team this season. The options presented a tempting smorgasbord considering that the new players start with an unrestricted free-agent class that features quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, tight end Zach Miller, wide receiver Sidney Rice, left guard Robert Gallery and defensive tackle Alan Branch and also includes a rookie class with seven draft choices and three promising undrafted rookies.
But Carroll did not hesitate in making the Browner his choice.
“He came out of nowhere,” Carroll said.
Well, not exactly nowhere, but the football equivalent – the Canadian Football League, where Browner played the past four seasons with the Calgary Stampeders. OK, so maybe Browner did come from just-this-side of nowhere.
“When he came out everybody lost track of him when he went to Canada,” Carroll said of Browner being part of the 2005 NFL Draft class coming out of Oregon State.
But don’t blame that on Browner. His extended exile in the CFL was not for a lack of trying to get back into the NFL. As he told Seahawks.com last month, “I was up there for four years, trying to get back every season.”
But the best he ever got was a workout. “It seemed they always passed on me,” he said. “It’s always been that way.”
Until the Seahawks came calling in January, signing Browner to a future contract before the 136-day lockout began.
That’s because Carroll and Browner have a history – and it goes beyond Browner playing for the Beavers while Carroll was coaching at USC. Browner played his high school football for Sylmar and Monroe in the San Fernando Valley, which was in Carroll’s recruiting backyard.
“Because I knew him growing up through high school and all that, it was especially fun for me to watch and see if he could pull it off,” Carroll said. “I always thought he was a really good player.”
More than pulling it off this summer, however, Browner has pushed, shoved and nudged his way into the Seahawks’ plans. Carroll has been looking for a bigger corner since he was hired 19 months ago, and the 6-foot-4, 221-pound Browner definitely is that. And he plays even bigger, jamming receivers off the line and jostling them for position while battling for the ball downfield.
“Didn’t know if a guy that tall could do it, but we love the fact that he can,” Carroll said. “And shoot, he’s starting.
“That’s a terrific story.”
“Four years in Canada paid off for him,” Carroll said. “He played a ton of football and had big years up there, and (it) made him more than a rookie when he got here. He has never seemed like a rookie. He’s more confident, more savvy, just has the right kinds of things that you’re looking for and took over.
“He’s really made a huge impression on us.”
That’s because Browner was here once, and has longed to return. He signed with the Denver Broncos as a rookie free agent after being passed over in the NFL Draft. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve and then was released after training camp in 2006. Browner headed North, to the land of the McKenzie Brothers, Don Cherry and Neil Young. And, despite looking back, was able to forge ahead. He was an All-CFL selection three times and won the Grey Cup in 2008.
Browner also honed his skills on the larger field in the CFL, where receivers also are allowed 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.”
Which not only helped keep him in the picture for the Seahawks, but pushed him to the forefront as incumbent starter Kelly Jennings was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals, intended starter Walter Thurmond missed most of training camp with a sprained ankle and draft choices Richard Sherman and Bryon Maxwell played well, but not well enough to bump Browner from the starting spot.
“That’s probably one of my favorite stories in this camp,” Carroll said.
But not his only one. “Another one is to see Dominique Byrd come back to life,” Carroll said of the tight end who also was signed to a future contract in January.
Like Browner, Byrd was just another face in his positional crowd when camp opened. Like Browner, Byrd had been in the league before – 14 games with the St. Louis Rams in 2006 and 2007. Like Browner, Byrd had been out of the league, in 2008 and 2010. Like Browner, Byrd beat out some and outlasted others this summer.
“He was out of the league and done,” Carroll said of Byrd, who had played for him at USC. “He had a great camp for us. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the OTAs and we would have known more and maybe not have been as surprised.
“But he had a very good camp and looks like a guy that can score touchdowns for us and add to this football team. So we’ll keep pulling for him and see if he can do that.”
Just like Browner.