Knowing history can give you an understanding of the where and why of the now. It is with that in mind that I bring you series like Dynamic Duo, Boss Unit and Know Your DB History. Continuing with the Dynamic Duos, you know I have to give you one on a part of the Legion of Boom which was the cornerbacks, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman.
When Pete Carroll took over the ailing USC Trojans football program in the late 90’s he separated the program from it’s Pac-12 mates by building a tough defense to counter the flashy offenses of the conferences. The biggest place he made his mark was in building the defensive lines at USC to push around the Pac-12 offensive fronts and disrupt all their fancy offensive plans.
Carroll sought to do the same when he arrived in Seattle in 2010 as the new coach of the Seahawks. However, his way of bullying teams on the defensive side of the ball was in the secondary and in particular at the cornerback positions. His plan to do so was to get bigger at the position in an unusual way and get more physical in an undeniable way.
Enter Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Browner had a decent college football career playing for two seasons with the Oregon St. Beavers. The most remarkable thing about Browner in the college game was that he lined up at corner while standing at 6’4″ and over 210 lbs. This type of size on a defender was suited for outside linebacker or safety. It was rather unheard of to park a corner out on the island at that size and have him cover speedy wide receivers. Nevertheless, Browner did well enough to have 6 interceptions, 16 pass break ups and 1 touchdown as a humungous cornerback.
Not used to having cornerbacks at that size, Browner was overlooked by the NFL and signed as a free agent with the Denver Broncos out of college. After two years of nothingness in Denver, Browner went to Canada to play for the Calgary Stampeders for five years (2006-2010). Browner’s All Star status in Canada netted him a workout for the Seahawks when Pete Carrol came into town looking to change things up in his secondary. Browner seized the opportunity and in 2011 became the starting cornerback for the Seahawks, all 6’4″ 2011 lbs. of him. This move by Pete Carroll would pay immediate dividends.
Browner would tally six interceptions in his first season with the Seahawks to go along with 23 pass breakups and two interception returns for touchdowns. How’s that for a street free agent signing? Browner totally fulfilled Carroll’s vision of being physical in pass coverage and changing the way offenses had to play. Bronwer’s physical style and overwhelming size consumed wide outs and frustrated opposing teams. He would spend three seasons in a Seahawks uniform and during that time, he and Sherman would team up to be one of the most fearsome cornerback combos the game has ever known. Browner’s personal life would be his undoing but when he was on the field his play was undeniable. In three seasons with Seattle he would intercept 10 passes, defend 39 and score twice. After year one, teams made it a point to avoid going in his direction.
Having added Browner in free agency in 2011, Carroll was looking to add a potential running mate at the cornerback spot for Browner and that opportunity came in the 5th round when they selected Richard Sherman from Stanford. Sherman spent the first three seasons of his college football career as a wide receiver for the Cardinal. He then made the switch to cornerback in his junior year to some pretty good results. Sherman intercepted two passes as a junior and then improved on that mark with 4 as a senior.
Similar to Browner’s situation when he was coming out, the NFL was not in the mode of playing guys that looked like basketball players at the cornerback position. As a result, Sherman slid to the 5th round where Pete Carroll saw a chance to fulfill his vision. It should be noted the Carroll also drafted another big corner in Byron Maxwell in that same draft in the 6th round. Maxwell would later go on to fill Browner’s shoes when he departed. Sherman was 6’3″ and 200 lbs. Carroll was well on his way to doing something that had never really been done before and set a trend in the game.
For things to work out the way Carroll wanted, he needed Sherman to perform well enough in camp to take the job and that he did. Like Browner, Sherman paid immediate dividends for the Seahawks’ new look defense. In season one with Seattle, Sherman would use his wide receiver skills and high intellect to pull down 4 interceptions and defend 17 passes. Between himself and Browner, they would grab 10 interceptions and have 40 pass breakups. Sherman used his length and size to be physical against opposing wide outs. Quarterbacks had very little room to fit balls in versus Sherman as he smothered pass catchers at the line of scrimmage and into the sidelines.
Sherman would go on to have three more very strong seasons with the Seahawks which culminated with a pair of Super Bowl appearances and a championship in 2013. Over his first four seasons with the Seahawks, Sherman would have 24 interceptions and 65 passes defensed. He would also add two pick sixes, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. It was a Hall of Fame type run.
Sherman and Browner were directly responsible for the trend in the mid 2010’s which saw defenses at all levels switching to 6′ + cornerbacks with long arms to imitate what the Seahawks were doing. While the trend still exists to this day, it was at it’s height during their time on the field together in Seattle. It wasn’t unusual to see a team try putting a 6’5″ defender at corner just to see what happens.
Another trend that Browner and Sherman were responsible for were rule changes. Nowadays it is more common to see flags thrown for defensive pass interference for contact down the field due in large part to how these two stunted point totals for offenses. Low point totals are believed to be bad for business for the NFL and as such, they’ve gotten tougher on cornerbacks trying to do their jobs. You can thank these two bullies for that.
It should be noted that both Browner and Sherman competed in track in high school and spent time playing offense in their prep days. In my opinion, both of those things helped them excel on the field as defenders in the National Football League.
Watch Brandon Browner’s physical style in action:
Chad Wilson is the owner of All Eyes DB Camp and author of "101 DB Tips". He played college football at the University of Miami and briefly in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks. Over his 15 year high school football coaching career, he tutored over a dozen Division I defensive backs and as a trainer has worked with NFL All Pros, first round draft picks, college football All Americans and Top 10 ranked high school football prospects.