The cornerback from Oregon State spent four years playing in Canada before helping Seattle turn its pass defense around.
RENTON — When Brandon Browner arrived at training camp a year ago, his bank account was running low, his anxiety running high.
“I was nervous,” Browner said. “You never know.”
He was turning 27, had played the past four seasons in Canada, and the lockout had taken a financial toll as he reported to Seattle, facing a now-or-never moment with his NFL future. One Pro Bowl appearance later, Browner has found a football security that he hasn’t felt since he was at Oregon State, where he was named the top freshman in the conference.
“I’m here where I want to be,” Browner said.
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Training camp is the time for unvarnished optimism all across the NFL. Every team is undefeated, and each player across this league can speak about their belief about just how much better this year is going to be.
That story line doesn’t fit the Seahawks’ secondary, nor Browner in particular. Not after the strides Seattle’s defensive backs made last season, beginning the season as one of the team’s biggest question marks before becoming one of its biggest strengths.
Both of Seattle’s safeties wound up in the Pro Bowl, as Earl Thomas was named a starter and Kam Chancellor was chosen as an injury replacement. Browner made it, too, after intercepting six passes, and Richard Sherman picked off four and started the final 10 games.
This is the same secondary that had been a perennial problem in Seattle. The Seahawks allowed the most passing yards in the league in 2008, the third-most in 2009 and the sixth-most in 2010. That’s three consecutive years on skid row for NFL secondaries, which made last year’s breakthrough all the more unexpected, especially since Seattle began the season with Marcus Trufant as its only starter with more than two years of NFL experience.
So just how did Seattle’s secondary make that kind of breakthrough?
“They made some plays, and they built off that confidence,” said defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. “More than anything, they had a clear understanding of what we were asking. It clicked for some of them.”
That’s true for Browner more so than anyone else.
He went years being unable to get so much as a roster spot for an NFL training camp, and he stuck out as soon as he arrived in Seattle because of his height, if nothing else. Just ask receiver Golden Tate.
“When I saw him line up, I said, ‘This 6-3, 6-4 dude hasn’t got any business playing corner,’ ” Tate said. “No business. These knocked knees, sitting at the line like that.”
And it’s true, Browner is long and lean at 6-4, not unlike a stork when he’s lining up. But he’s also a tangle of arms and legs who’s not afraid to be physical. In fact, his strength allows him to get his hands on a receiver and throw him off his route first, and then off his game.
That strength was also a liability, though. He was flagged for a league-leading 19 penalties last season. That was nearly twice as many as any other player on Seattle’s team.
“We’re going to be aggressive,” Bradley said, “and that’s our motto, but we’ve got to be smart as well.”
This is training camp, after all, and there’s always room for improvement. Even for a player like Browner, who in a single year went from being a player who had waited for years simply to get a spot at training camp to a Seahawk playing in the Pro Bowl.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.