Since Rodney Harrison stopped patrolling the secondary in New England, the Patriots defense has lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. Pads didn't crack as hard. Tacklers became catchers. Confidence waned. The swagger was gone.
Brandon Meriweather tried to take over the helm, but ultimately failed. A fellow Brandon has now picked up the gauntlet.
Though he'll start the season on a four-week suspension, Brandon Browner—with some help from his compatriot Darrelle Revis—has already changed the culture of the New England Patriots defense. Instead of "bend, don't break," it looks like the defense has taken on the "bend them, then break them" mantra.
This injection of energy and physicality shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Patriots fans and players have seen what Browner can do firsthand. Wes Welker might not remember this hit, but fans will.
Opposing receivers have long roamed the secondary with impunity. Browner has put NFL offenses on notice—starting with New England's—signifying that that time is over.
Brandon Spikes may have been a fiery personality on Sundays, but his lackadaisical effort that I saw during training camp practices didn't help infuse the team with a sense of urgency. Browner's intensity translates well to the practice field and has proven to be contagious.
Browner's intensity occasionally bubbles over, perhaps resulting in the edge the Patriots need. Phil Perry from CSNNE.com had some censored thoughts from Patriots training camp:
About halfway through Wednesday morning's session, Browner was participating in a one-on-one drill where he was asked to cover a receiver going at full speed. When O'Shea reacted angrily after a rep in which Browner played with particular physicality, the 6-foot-4 corner turned his attention toward O'Shea.
Media members are not allowed to quote or paraphrase things that are said on the practice field during training camp, but Browner was visibly upset at O'Shea -- taking a few steps toward him -- and the two exchanged words as Browner's teammates intervened.
Verbally sparring with coaches probably isn't what Bill Belichick wants to see, but caring enough to give 100 percent in practice has the dual purpose of elevating the defense while giving the offense near game-level repetitions. Patriots receivers have struggled getting off the line against press corners in the past. Working against Browner and Revis—two of the best in the game—should hone their skills to a fine edge.
Browner was obviously not comfortable letting the offense walk up and down the field, via Perry:
"It was a physical one, man," Browner said after practice. "We gotta compete out here. I'm tired of giving up balls so I had to turn it up a little bit today."
He added: "Yesterday we gave up a few balls, let some of these guys off the line a little easy yesterday. That was my mentality going into this practice: To win. [Win] my one-on-one matchups and things like that."
With Revis locking down one side of the field, Browner should have the opportunity to impose his will at the line of scrimmage. If a receiver slips by his 6'4" frame, Devin McCourty should be free to help him out over the top.
While Browner and Harrison may play different positions on the field, they play the same position in the mind's of the opponent: the intimidator. As the Seattle Seahawks showed in 2013, intimidation—combined with execution—wins.
The Patriots are counting on Browner having brought that winning formula with him.