Brandon Browner Projects At Cornerback, Not Safety, For Patriots (Mailbag)

Brandon BrownerThe New England Patriots solved all of their pass-defense issues in just 48 hours.

The Patriots lacked a cornerback who could shadow a team’s No. 1 receiver after losing Aqib Talib to the Denver Broncos, so they agreed to terms on a contract with Darrelle Revis on Wednesday. They lacked size and physical play, so they signed Brandon Browner on Friday night. They lack a second top-tier safety, so they signed two cornerbacks that excel in man coverage and can take away wide receivers down the sideline.

Patriots fans seem enamored by both players, but as soon as Browner came to New England for a visit, questions wouldn’t stop rolling in about when the Patriots would sign the 6-foot-4, 221-pound behemoth. After the Patriots locked him up, the questions kept coming in, so I decided to do a mailbag dedicated to Browner and Browner only. Enjoy.

Will Browner play safety or cornerback?

After watching Browner against the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans and parts of his games against the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans last night on NFL Game Rewind’s coaches film, I see him strictly as a cornerback, though Bill Belichick has been known to get creative.

Browner’s at his best when he’s trailing a wide receiver down the sideline. He’s probably at his worst when he’s asked to drop into a zone — he has a tendency to look lost at times.

A lack of strong zone play pretty much takes safety out of the equation for me. He has ideal size for the position, but there’s a reason he’s still playing cornerback.

I’m also not sure if I could see Browner lining up against tight ends, unless they’re split out wide. Browner is at his best when he has the sideline to protect him. He can use his long arms and big mitts to get his hands on wide receivers to slow them down in their routes. He can struggle at times with change of direction, and when he can’t predict a receiver’s route. That’s when his size becomes a disadvantage and his hips start to slow down. The slot could be tricky for Browner.

The Seattle Seahawks’ defense was designed to limit how much Browner has to cross over the middle of the field to shadow receivers. Typically he’ll pass that player off to a linebacker or safety and drop back to the sideline. It’s tough to hell how much he struggles to cover over the middle, but when I did see him crossing over, he would get very physical and stay in constant contact with the receiver. I didn’t see him get flagged for that, and it’s technically not a penalty unless he’s hold or the ball is being thrown at that target.

Patriots safety Duron Harmon and linebacker Jamie Collins will be key in picking up those players over the middle next season.

What’s his favorite food and color? I’m curious.

His favorite food is wide receivers, and his favorite color is grass stains from knocking smaller players to the turf.

He’s obviously physical. How solid is he against the run?

I actually didn’t watch any snaps he took against the run, but he has a solid reputation for his ability to stop running backs. Pro Football Focus rated him 11th among 57 cornerbacks against the run in 2011 and fifth among 55 corners in 2012.

He rated negatively against the run in 2013, but that could be chalked up to a small-sample size. He only played eight games.

Are Browner and Revis going to allow Devin McCourty to be more of a playmaker? Therefore, do you think it would be wise to extend him now?

I think it’s wise to extend McCourty now anyway, but yes, I do think it will make McCourty into more of a playmaker. Revis shortens the window of space that McCourty needs to cover, since the All-Pro can shadow a No. 1 receiver across the field. Browner has long arms and great ball skills, and that caused some interceptions for other Seahawks in 2013. McCourty might be the beneficiary of a few easy picks because of Browner.

Is it fair to say that if everything works out well after training camp, OTAs and the four-game suspension, he will be the No. 2 cornerback?

Yes, if everything goes as planned, I think he will be the No. 2 cornerback. The competition will be fierce between him, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan in training camp, though.

Dennard is a smaller player, but he has proven success when healthy in the Patriots’ defense. Ryan is also smaller, but he proved to be a playmaker as a rookie in 2013.

When Browner returns from suspension, do you think Dennard or Ryan will get a lot more time in the slot?

There will also be a competition for slot snaps between Dennard, Ryan and Arrington. I think all three players can shine in that role and it will come down to who looks best through the summer, preseason and first four games of the season.

Those four games that Browner is suspended will be a prove-it period for the players who can actually suit up.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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