FOXBOROUGH — It was a first look at a new look.
The New England Patriots took the field for their first three practices at OTAs this week, and it presented our first glimpse at the new pairing of prized free agent cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in Patriots uniforms — or at least the helmets.
The players were not in pads, but expectations were met. Revis was running stride for stride with anyone he covered, and Browner stood out for his size, length, and ability to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage.
But before they can put on the pads for a game, or even for training camp, there’s still a lot to do during the offseason workout program. The Patriots added te pieces over two months ago, but this is the first time they get to try to make them fit.
Building chemistry is a necessary component of a successful secondary, but that takes time. There are more immediate goals that need to be accomplished.
“One is to get in shape,” Revis said of his goals at this time of year. “Also, [another] is to learn the defense for me. It’s different terminology. Our program is ran different, and I’m just trying to adjust to Coach Belichick’s program. You gotta take a step back. That’s all I’m trying to do, is learn and absorb as much as I can, and just trying to get better.”
Revis’ responsibilities have changed over the years, going from a blitz-happy man coverage-based defensive scheme with the New York Jets (2007-2012) to a more passive zone scheme with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013).
There are new responsibilities Revis will learn with the Patriots, but that’s been the case in each of Revis’ previous stops.
“I’m not trying to come in here and step on anybody’s toes,” Revis said. “You gotta take a step back. There’s guys that have been here for many years — Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan is a very smart guy. They’ve been in this system a little bit, so I’m just trying to sit back and get feedback from those guys and we’ll go from there.”
While Revis is focused on learning the kinks of the defense, Browner said he is focused on getting better all around, in both press coverage and zone coverage. His duties may change from what he was asked to do with the Seattle Seahawks, but the game won’t.
“It’s football, man,” said Browner. “Football been the same — X’s and O’s — since I was a little kid.”
He may not have to adjust very much, if the Patriots plan on running a scheme that’s heavy on man coverage.
As part of Seattle’s vaunted “Legion of Boom” secondary, Browner was part of one of the most talented groups of defensive backs in football over the past three seasons. While acknowledging that the chemistry doesn’t develop overnight, Browner says this group has the potential to be special.
“I think we got a good group here with the additions of Revis,” he said. “McCourty is a good football player. With the young players we got here, we should be good.”
Revis and Browner have some work to do if they want to catch up to their teammates — McCourty, Ryan, Kyle Arrington, and others have been in the system, and already have a head start in their knowledge of the defense.
Communication is a key aspect of playing in the secondary, with different defensive backs responsible for different assignments depending on the play and the coverage call. Building rapport and developing that chemistry can be a process.
“It could take awhile,” said Revis. “As of right now, we’re in OTAs, and this is the time where we can glue together — not just as a secondary, but also as a defense, and also as a team, as well.”
They’ve already begun building that chemistry. Revis and Browner stood next to each other, talking in between reps at practice, with McCourty and others joining in on the conversation.
“It’s conversation, all the time,” said Revis. “We see each other every day, we’re at work, and it’s always talks about this, or if I have any questions, I know I can go to those guys and ask them.”
We will get our first glimpse of Revis and Browner in game action together during the preseason, but Browner must serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
As a result, while it’s important for Revis and Browner to get used to working together, the Patriots will have to mix and match to get different combinations on the field.
“I think it’s a combination of trying to get everybody to work together,” said defensive backs coach Josh Boyer. “We’re going to ask guys to do different things, we’ll move guys around, ask them to do different techniques, different spots. So there’s going to be numerous groups of guys in and out, and you’ve always got to be ready because if a guy’s not there, then you’ve got to play with somebody else. So I think we’ll cover that from all angles.”
Boyer has worked with many different groups of defensive backs over the years. In fact, according to Bleacher Report’s Mike Dussault, from 2009-2012 (Boyer’s first four years as defensive backs coach), the Patriots did not enter a season with the same secondary that ended the previous season.
This year brings more changes, but instead of building the whole thing at once, Boyer tries to help each player become the best individual player possible.
“Every individual is different, so each case is probably going to be a little bit different, so you just kind of work with — okay, what was their experience, what have they had here, how will it fit into what we’re doing, and you just kind of take it individual by individual case. Our ultimate goal is to try to make each individual the best possible player they can be to help the team, and we’ll ask them to do numerous different things, and as we build that way and the individuals get better, the group gets better and then the team gets better.”
With two individuals as talented as Revis and Browner, the Patriots are already off to a good start. As the two learn each other, the defense, and their teammates, the product as a whole could be even better than the sum of its parts.