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From the CFL to the Pro Bowl

Posted Jan 24, 2012

A year ago, Brandon Browner had just signed a future contract with the Seahawks after playing four seasons in the CFL. Today, the extra-large cornerback is heading to the Pro Bowl.

Somewhere, Richard Sherman is smiling. No, make that grinning.

It was the Seahawks’ rookie who began a one-man “Brandon Browner for the Pro Bowl” campaign after the team’s other first-year starter at cornerback intercepted two passes in a nationally televised Thursday night victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13 at CenturyLink Field.

“B.B. for the Pro Bowl,” Sherman said to no one in particular while walking through the locker room after the game. “And remember, you heard it here first.”

As the season progressed, so did Sherman’s insistence that Browner did indeed deserve a spot on the NFC squad for the NFL all-star game.

When the selections were announced Dec. 27, Browner was a first alternate. But the former CFL standout was added to the NFC roster on Monday night after Carlos Rodgers of the San Francisco 49ers pulled out because of an injury.

Strong safety Kam Chancellor, another first-year starter on the Seahawks’ ninth-ranked defense and another first alternate in the Pro Bowl balloting, also will play in Sunday’s game at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu because the 49ers’ Dashon Goldson also dropped out because of an injury.

The 6-foot-4 Browner and the 6-3 Chancellor join free safety Earl Thomas and fullback Michael Robinson, who will be starters for the NFC. Thomas was voted to his spot; while Robinson, another first alternate, was added last week after the Green Bay Packers’ John Kuhn decided not to play because of an injury.

But Browner’s addition to the Pro Bowl roster is the most unlikely, because of where he has come from and everything he has had to endure to even get a chance to play in the league – let alone the league’s all-star game.

Browner was not selected in the 2005 NFL Draft coming out of Oregon State, so he signed as a free agent with the Denver Broncos. After spending his rookie season on injured reserve, the Broncos released him during training camp the following summer. That led to Browner signing with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL for the 2007 season, and being named all-league in his final three seasons (2008-10).

“I was up there for four years, trying to get back every season,” Browner said. “I got a few calls after every season up there, but nothing ever panned out. The best I could get was a tryout.”

The Seahawks gave him a chance, albeit a slim one, by signing Browner to a future contract last Jan. 21. The idea when training camp opened in late July was that Walter Thurmond would be the starter on the right side. But when a sprained ankle sidelined Thurmond, Browner stepped in – and there he stayed.

“I had a good feeling about it here, once they said they would give me a shot,” Browner said. “That’s all I really wanted was a shot. I knew I was going to make the most of it. Once they gave me that shot, I jumped on it and went at it as hard as I could.”

Finally given that shot, the caliber of Browner’s play only got better as the season progressed. He cut back on the number of penalties he was committing, while increasing his interception total to a team-leading six by picking off five passes in the final six games.

His yardage total on those returners (220) obliterated the 27-year-old club record (179 by Dave Brown in 1984) and ranked second in the NFL behind Chris Houston of the Detroit Lions (225). Browner also returned two of his interceptions for touchdowns – a 94-yarder to ice the Week 5 upset of the Super Bowl-bound New York Giants, which also broke the club record set by Sammy Green in 1979 (91 yards); and a 42-yarder in the Week 15 win over the Bears in Chicago.

Browner also led the team in passes defensed with 23, six more than runner-up Sherman; and 51 of his 54 total tackles were solo stops.

“I’ve learned a heck of a lot and come a long way from Week 1,” Browner said. “I think I progressed and did some good things that I can build on for next season.” 

Browner’s individual efforts helped the Seahawks rank 11th in pass defense, up from No. 27 in 2010.

“Brandon has attributes that are uncommon,” said Kris Richard, the former Seahawks cornerback who is now coaching the team’s defensive backs. “Typically a guy that size, you would think he’d have trouble getting in and out of his 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.”

Unless you were an opponent preparing to face the Seahawks’ extra-large secondary – especially Browner and Sherman. Each week, opposing coaches were asked what concerned them the most about the Seahawks’ defense. Each week, the answer was roughly the same.

“Both those guys that they’ve got playing for them give some size and long arms and they press just like we do, so I think that has helped,” former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said before the Seahawks’ Week 14 rematch with St. Louis. “In the last four weeks, they’ve done very well against the run. And anytime you have confidence in your corners, in your mind eliminating a wideout per say, you can do different things run defense-wise.

“I just think it all fits together and helps the whole defense.”

Just another step in Browner’s improbable journey from the CFL to the Pro Bowl.

“I just feel like I’ve got something to build on,” he said, reflecting on his first NFL season. “It was a mystery coming in. I always thought maybe I wasn’t good enough for this level because they kept turning me down.

“Now, like I said, I’ve got something to build on. I’m going to come back stronger than I was when I came in here.”

And, with a Pro Bowl appearance on his resume.