New England Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner made headlines this week with his physical play in the joint practices with the Washington Redskins. Browner has been lauded for having brought a physical presence to the New England secondary this preseason. However, there is one problem for the Patriots: after the preseason, Browner must serve a four-game suspension, and New England must find someone else to start at cornerback until Browner returns in Week 5, the first week of October, against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night.
The Patriots need to find a starter opposite All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, and right now, the battle is primarily between third-year cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and second-year cornerback Logan Ryan. Dennard started nine games and both postseason games last year but is coming off an offseason where he spent 30 days in jail and also had shoulder surgery. That thrusts Ryan into the spotlight.
Ryan had an interesting rookie season as he played sparingly early on in the season but still finished with five interceptions, showing good hands and play-making ability. He had a pick-six against the Jets in Week 7 and followed-up with two sacks and a forced fumble the next week, helping to turnaround a second-half deficit against the Dolphins. He added interceptions against Denver and Houston in Week 12 and 13 before finishing with a pair against Baltimore in Week 16.
Ryan struggled in the playoffs as he had a rough game in coverage against Indianapolis, struggling in coverage against wide receiver Griff Whalen, and then was abused by whatever Denver receiver was across from him to the tune of 7 receptions on 9 targets for 99 yards. While the playoff struggles left a bad taste in the mouth of Ryan’s rookie year, it did not diminish from a strong rookie year to build upon.
Most interesting about Ryan’s rookie year was an astounding statistic uncovered in researching his rookie season was this nugget from ProFootbackFocus.com: For cornerbacks playing at least 50 percent of their team’s defensive snaps, Logan Ryan finished with a 53.3 quarterback rating on passes into his coverage. This was second in the NFL to only All-Pro Richard Sherman and his 36.2 quarterback rating on passes into his coverage.
While this in no way is intended to imply that Ryan is the second-best cornerback in the NFL, it is a sign that he is a talented, young player who can play a key role on defense. Ryan showed growth in his rookie season, good hands and recognition when the ball is in play, and an ability to make a big play. His struggles in the playoffs show he still needs time to develop, but he can be an important contributor in the secondary.
Ryan is a player to bear watching in the preseason games to see if he has used the offseason and training camp to take a step forward and play a key role early in the season. Ryan has the tools to help New England and an opportunity to grab a starting role. Now the key question is if he can grab it over the next few weeks and start and thrive for the Patriots in Week 1.
Follow Hal Bent at @halbent01
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