FOXBOROUGH — Brandon Browner is a big, physical cornerback, and he had a big, physical day against the Patriots wide receivers on Wednesday.
It hasn't all been great for Browner in the early stages of training camp. He's been on the wrong end of a strong start by wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, but he had perhaps the best practice of any cornerback on Wednesday, in the Patriots' fourth straight padded practice and sixth practice overall in training camp.
We got a small dose of Browner's attitude in a pair of 1-on-1 reps between he and Thompkins. On the first rep, Thompkins shoved Browner aside as he got free in the back of the end zone. It may have been flagged for pass interference in a game situation. Either way, Browner didn't let Thompkins get away with it. On the next rep in the same drill, Browner threw Thompkins to the ground as a reminder of his physically imposing nature.
"Those are my teammates out there. You don't want nobody to get hurt, but at the same time, you want to compete," Browner said. "Like I told [Thompkins], it's gonna get them better and me better."
We got a much larger dose of his attitude on a later player. Browner shoved Brandon LaFell off his route as the ball fell incomplete. Wide receiver coach Chad O'Shea called holding on the play, and the two got into a heated exchange, but Browner said they had "hugged it out" and he was seen shaking hands with LaFell after the play.
But Browner wasn't done there. He notched a pair of interceptions off Tom Brady in team drills while in coverage on Thompkins. He stripped the ball away from Thompkins for one (apparent to the naked eye) interception, and beat Thompkins to the inside while the receiver ran an in-route on the other pick.
"Yeah, I finally got my hands on some balls, man," Browner said of his interceptions. "I've been itching to make a play."
We had been waiting to see a breakout practice from Browner, and this certainly fit the bill. When he comes back after his four-game suspension, the Patriots will have a great matchup piece for their secondary. Here are some more notes from Wednesday's practice:
— TE Michael Hoomanawanui (unknown), DB Jemea Thomas (unknown), RB Tyler Gaffney (meniscus), C Bryan Stork (unknown), and WR Josh Boyce (unknown) were absent from practice. WR Aaron Dobson (foot, PUP), WR Matthew Slater (unknown, PUP), OL Chris Martin (unknown, NFI). DL Dominique Easley (knee, NFI), WR Jeremy Gallon (unknown, PUP), LB Deontae Skinner (unknown, NFI) were all spotted but did not participate in practice, and were dressed in shorts and t-shirts.
— OL Dan Connolly (unknown) had been missing from Tuesday's practice, but made his return on Wednesday. Stork was a new absence, after leaving the practice field early on Tuesday; Boyce seemed to finish Tuesday's practice healthy, but was not spotted on Wednesday.
— Drops: TE Justin Jones, RB Roy Finch, WR Julian Edelman (2), WR Derrick Johnson, RB Shane Vereen, RB Brandon Bolden, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, WR Wilson Van Hooser, TE Rob Gronkowski (2)
— Interceptions: CB Brandon Browner (2)
— OL vs. DL results: There was one session of 1-on-1 pass-rush drills pitting the offensive line against the defensive line, with 22 repetitions. The offensive line once again beat the defensive line, marking the third day in a row with such a result. Things were a bit closer today, with the offense winning by a result of 12-10.
— OL results: Nate Solder (3-0), Logan Mankins (0-2), Ryan Wendell (1-2), Marcus Cannon (0-2), Sebastian Vollmer (1-1), Chris Barker (1-1), Jordan Devey (1-1), Jon Halapio (2-1), Cameron Fleming (2-0), Dan Connolly (1-0)
— DL results: Chandler Jones (1-2), Vince Wilfork (1-1), Sealver Siliga (2-0), Tommy Kelly (2-0), Rob Ninkovich (0-3), Will Smith (0-2), Chris Jones (2-1), Joe Vellano (1-1), Jamie Collins (0-1), Dont'a Hightower (1-0), Eathyn Manumaleuna (0-1)
— A few notable reps in the 1-on-1s: Cameron Fleming stymied veteran Rob Ninkovich on two attempts, standing him up and preventing the defensive end from getting any push into the backfield. Dont'a Hightower had a nice rush against Sebastian Vollmer, with a smooth shoulder dip to get underneath Vollmer's right shoulder pad while bending the corner.
— The defensive line spent an early portion of practice working on two-gapping technique on zone runs. They would line up 1-on-1 and maintain their responsibility while shuffling to the side, then disengaging with one arm to have the other arm free to make the tackle.
— There was an early coverage drill with linebackers and safeties against running backs and tight ends. During this drill, there were two notable reps where Jamie Collins got the better of Stevan Ridley: first by reaching in to break up a pass before it got to Ridley, and then by bowling Ridley over when the ball arrived.
— During that same drill, Justin Jones made a pair of nice grabs. The first came against Devin McCourty, with Jones using his massive wingspan to reach away from McCourty and make the catch. The second came against Shamiel Gary, with the big tight end using his surprising quickness to elude the coverage and make the grab in open space.
— Conversely, this same drill saw tight end Asa Watson run a lazy route to the sideline, resulting in an off-target pass that drew the ire of Brady.
— There seems to be a lot of rotating going on in the Patriots offensive backfield. James White, Roy Finch, Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray, and Stephen Houston were all taking turns in goal line work.
— Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, and Patrick Chung were all getting top billing at strong safety during the first week of training camp, but Nate Ebner got his turn lining up next to Devin McCourty in a pair of 11-on-11 sessions in the middle and at the end of practice. It seems like the coaches are giving everyone a chance to make an impression at that spot.
— Separately, Logan Ryan took part in some team drills at strong safety. This was the first we had seen of him at the position, and it only lasted a few reps, so let's not go naming him the team's new starting strong safety just yet.
— More rotations going on at kick returner during team kickoff drills. Roy Finch, Malcolm Butler, Derrick Johnson, and James White all got a crack at returning kicks on Wednesday.
— Meanwhile, this was the second straight day in which the quartet of Tom Brady, Darrelle Revis, Rob Gronkowski, and Bill Belichick all worked separately from the rest of the team while everyone else was doing special teams and positional work. Peter Schrager of FOX Sports put it best: These are the four horsemen for the Patriots this season.
— Danny Aiken and Tyler Ott were taking turns as the long-snapper on team field goal drills at the end of practice. Throughout practice, each one took turns snapping to punter Ryan Allen, who would then pantomime his duties as place-holder for a field goal. This battle is pretty much up in the air, and very hard to tell who has the lead at this point.
— Browner really shined during team drills, where he had his two picks off Brady and was draped on Thompkins in coverage everywhere he went. Brady tried a fade deep to the left to Thompkins against Browner, but Thompkins couldn't locate the ball with Browner too close in coverage. Later, Thompkins couldn't shake past Browner's coverage on a hitch route, resulting in an overthrown pass by Brady.
— The entire team ended practice with hill sprints on the hill behind the practice field, which connects the upper field to the lower field.
— After the hill sprints, Gronkowski could be seen practicing his run-blocking out of a three-point stance against Ninkovich.
— On the adjacent field, Derrick Johnson was on the jugs machine, perhaps repenting for his previous drop.