RENTON — At this time last year, Brandon Browner was a training camp curiosity, a too-tall cornerback with two skinny legs who was trying to make an NFL roster after spending four seasons in the Canadian Football League.
Much changed for Browner in the past year. He not only won a starting job last season, but also led the Seahawks with six interceptions — two of which he returned for touchdowns — started every game and played in the Pro Bowl in his first NFL season.
So what does Browner plan to do for an encore? Back that impressive debut season up with an even better 2012?
“It’s a lot different,” Browner said of his second Seahawks training camp. “Last year, there was some uncertainty. Now, I’ve got a little bit of an understanding of the defense this year. But at the same time, we’ve got a standard that’s set and we’ve got to play to that standard that’s set.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll agrees that, as good as Browner was last season, he needs to prove he can do it again at an even higher level.
“He’s off to a great start, but one year is one year,” Carroll said. “You’ve got to come back and do it again.”
Carroll, who has had a knack for finding talent in odd places, takes pride in bringing Browner to Seattle.
The coach’s’s connection with Browner goes back to the cornerback’s high school days when he attended a camp at USC. Carroll didn’t end up offering Browner a scholarship, then came to regret it a bit when Browner went to Oregon State and became a long-limbed nuisance to Pacific-10 Conference receivers.
Then Carroll, like most everyone in football, lost track of Browner for a while, but eventually heard about a tall cornerback lighting it up in the CFL. Years after deciding Browner didn’t run well enough to merit a scholarship offer, Carroll realized that if Browner was able to excel at Oregon State, and then in the CFL, he just might be able to cut it in the NFL as well, particularly in a defense that values corners with size who can play press coverage.
“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, let’s get that guy in here,’” Carroll said. “… I said to (defensive coordinator Gus Bradley) and those guys, this is an unbelievable opportunity for us, because this guy just may be really, really special. …
“Not only does he have this length, but he’s got savvy that makes him special. He knows how to play the spot. He understands all of what is going on, he anticipates and sees things kind of before they happen, and that’s what gives him a chance to be special if he can just hold up physically.”
Ah yes, that. While Browner made it through the 2011 season fine, Carroll, like anyone who has seen Browner’s big frame atop those scrawny legs, has to wonder how he can hold up to the physical demands of the NFL.
“I mean you look at those legs and that body, and there’s like no way you could ever say that you could do it,” Carroll said with a laugh. “I mean his legs, it’s a sad sight, now. You wonder if they’re arms. It’s that bad.”
Yet skinny legs and all, Browner wasn’t just a tall cornerback in his first year in the NFL. He was a darn physical one.
On one occasion, Browner took out three Arizona Cardinals in a matter of seconds on special teams. At other times, he’d knock receivers down as they tried to get off the line of scrimmage. Then there was the time Browner went all-pro wrestling on Jerome Simpson, suplexing the Bengals receiver after the whistle.
Which brings us to the downside to Browner’s physical play.
For all Browner did well, there was one major red flag on his resume. Actually, it wasn’t so much a red flag as it was a lot of yellow ones.
Walking the fine line that cornerbacks have to walk, Browner often found himself on the wrong side of it, piling up defensive holding and pass interference calls to the point that he was the most penalized player in the league. The Seahawks don’t want Browner to lose his edge, but they would like him to give away fewer first downs by penalty.
“We want him to be really consistently good like he can be, and then we’ve got to clean up the penalty thing,” Carroll said. “That was the really the issue with him last year. I thought he had a great season, but he did have a lot of penalties, and that’s something we’ve addressed directly, and we expect and anticipate seeing that change.”
If Browner can clean up the penalties while still maintaining his physical style, there is no reason he can’t backup an impressive first season with an even better one in 2012, and no reason why a defensive secondary that sent three players to the Pro Bowl last season can’t be one of the NFL’s best. Browner and his fellow defensive backs know that this season comes with a lot of expectations, but he doesn’t see it as too big a burden to carry, even with those skinny legs.
“It’s pressure, but it’s something that we’re looking forward to,” Browner said. “… I know these guys now, I’ve been around them for a year now, and that helps. But we’ve got a bar that we set, there’s a standard in that backfield. So, we’ve got to play for that.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.