A Boston Herald report Thursday cited an unnamed source who suggested that cornerback Brandon Browner, one of New England's highest profile free agents this past offseason, has had difficulty absorbing the Patriots playbook. This, according to the Herald story, contributed to Browner's not being activated off an NFL suspension last week for the Bengals game (he was able to practice under a week-long roster exemption).
The 6-4, 220-pound corner, late of Super Bowl champion Seattle, inked a three-year, $17 million contract with New England in the spring. He was allowed to take part in training camp and the preseason, but was forced to sit out the first four regular season games this year after being found in violation of the NFL's drug policy while he was a member of the Seahawks.
Browner's roster exemption (along with suspended WR Brian Tyms) expired this past Monday, and the team made room for both of them on the 53-man roster by releasing DL Joe Vellano (who then re-signed to the team's practice squad) and placing DE Michael Buchanan on season-ending injured reserve. Terms of Browner's suspension allowed him to be at the Patriots facilities and take part in team and position meetings while he was sidelined in September.
New England's defensive scheme is markedly different than the one in which Browner made a name for himself in Seattle.
Asked Friday whether there was any truth to the Herald report, head coach Bill Belichick downplayed it, characterizing as "good" Browner's ability to pick up the defensive concepts.
"I don't think the learning part of it is any issue at all; hasn't been since he's been here," Belichick stated.
Browner's teammates in the Patriots secondary seemed to come to his defense later.
"This is my third team. When you come to a new team, everybody runs a different scheme," explained cornerback Darrelle Revis. "Yeah, you've got to get the kinks out and figure out how we play defense. You have to take a step back, and that's what I did, and ask as many questions as I could of the coaches and the experienced players on this defense. And that's what you've got to do, and I've been doing and will continue to do."
"Yeah, it's always tough," echoed safety/co-captain Devin McCourty, who began his NFL career as a Pro Bowl cornerback for New England before switching to safety full-time in recent years.
"I think at this point in the season, guys understand their roles and what they need to do to help the team get a win. A true comfort level just comes with reps. For each guy, that's going to be different," McCourty pointed out. "But I think everybody knows what they need to do on the field and how we need to work as a unit to play good football."
Revis covering up
A week ago, Revis played coy with the media when questioned about whether he would like to cover Cincinnati's top receiver, A.J. Green. Turned out, Revis already knew at the time that he would be given that assignment.
Friday, he was asked directly if he would be shadowing Bills rookie wideout Sammy Watkins in Buffalo on Sunday.
"I can't tell you the game plan, buddy," Revis laughed good-naturedly. "I'm looking forward to the game on Sunday, and I'm looking for us to go up there and win. That's the main goal."
A fifth player was absent for Friday's practice, joining the four who also missed Thursday's session.
Rookie starting center Bryan Stork suffered a head injury during Thursday's practice and was limited as a result. He was not on the field at all on Friday, however, which does not bode well for his chances of playing against Buffalo Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Browner (ankle), rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley (knee/shoulder), safety Nate Ebner (finger), and rookie o-lineman Cameron Fleming (finger) remain out of commission and will likely be deactivated for the Bills game as well. Definitive word on their status could come as early as 4 p.m. today, when the team's final injury report of the week is released.
McCourty (rib) was limited in practice this week and was asked about his health in the post-practice locker room Friday.
"What ribs?" he cracked with a grin. "I had ribs… Monday night [in Kansas City]?"