Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Patriots Camp: Rise of the Street Thug Defense

Ah, training camp.

It's hot, and the players have been digging at each other for almost a week - tempers rise with the temperature and the humidity, and it's just a matter of time before the players start taking exception to - well - anything that the person he's engaged with is doing.

That time was Wednesday morning.

In one of the most physical and mean-spirited practices in recent memory, scuffles broke out all over the place on the practice fields at Gillette Stadium, to the point that it started to resemble a mosh pit, only instead of burnouts at a thrash metal concert, it was with dudes in helmets and pads and coaches trying to separate them.
Browner (39) showing off his physical style on Wednesday

The New England Patriots under Bill Belichick have mostly been known as more of a cerebral team, what with the offensive playbook being thicker than most college level calculus textbooks and sometimes just as challenging, and combined with the defensive genius of Belichick, there's not much time for any such silliness.

But here's the thing: The Patriots need this, because to add the element of territorial aggression amongst the defenders means that they will not bend, they will not break - and if you try to invade their space, you are going to pay the price.

And newly acquired cornerback Brandon Browner appears to be the talisman.

"It was a physical one." Browner said after a practice in which he went out of his way to establish his territory in the secondary, "We had to compete out there. I’m tired of giving up balls so I just turned it up a little bit.”

What Browner was saying is that ball is his, the grass is his, the sticks are his and the air surrounding him is his - and if you want any of those things, bring some riot gear and a cut man, because he's not giving them up without a fight - whether you are a player, or a coach.

Receivers' coach Chad O'Shea became horrified at the physical corner's tactics with his charges and had some words with Browner right after he mugged receiver Kenbrell Thompkins on a crossing route - and the coach and Browner postured for a moment like they were going to square off, until cooler heads stepped in and took the two to their respective corners.

The incident was preceded by a string of physical encounters between Browner and Thompkins, which started with the smaller receiver shoving Browner to the turf in the end zone to catch a Brady offering, then Browner reciprocating on the next play, prompting O'Shea to shout at Browner that he had just committed a pass interference penalty.

Thompkins gave as good as he got in the exchanges, but after the third play in a row against each other ended up in a scrum on the turf and the ball in Browner's hands, Thompkins refused to accept a low-five from the corner and things disintegrated from there.

After the session was over, coach and corner "hugged it out", but Browner was decidedly luke-warm in response to questions from the media about the incident, saying, "As a coach, I gotta respect him - it's nothing that I want to talk about or put on TV."

Perhaps Browner was still under the influence of the adrenalin generated from physical exertion, but his words toward the coach were in no way apologetic, nor should they have been - but then he qualified his comments about physical play in practice...

...and then laid down a gauntlet for the offense to ponder, much the same way quarterback Tom Brady challenged the defense at the end of Sunday's practice.

"I need to be liked by my teammates," Browner said. "Those are the guys I'm gonna go to war with. But at the same time, I'm gonna be aggressive with those guys. It's going to make those guys better. And I hope they bring the same fire back at me."

“It’s very competitive. It gets heated at times. But at the end of the day we’re brothers and we’re family,” he continued, showing that he hasn't lost track of what's really important. “Nothing carries over from the field to the locker room, which is huge, very professional. Everybody out here is trying to get better every day. It’s going to get heated, it’s going to get competitive. But at the end of the day, we’re family."

Can we get an Amen?

Browner came from Seattle in a coup by the brilliant Belichick, and he embodied the attitude and ethic that became the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom", but he brought that attitude to that defense, he didn't acquire it from being there - and he's bringing that same attitude to a Patriots' secondary that also has it's share of aggressive and physical defensive backs.

Point being, this is Brandon Browner.  He is in Foxborough and in a Patriots' uniform because of what he brings to the field, and it goes without saying that Belichick probably hopes that the attitude is infectious.

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