Saints CBs Keenan Lewis, Brandon Browner make presence felt on Day 1

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Keenan Lewis took turns one-upping each other during the New Orleans Saints' first training camp practice Thursday.

Browner staked his claim on the play of the day by coming around the left edge to block a field goal early in practice. Then Lewis topped him with an acrobatic diving interception on a deep ball from quarterback Luke McCown during 7-on-7 drills.

The two former Oregon State teammates then each rejected a pass from quarterback Drew Brees during full-team drills. In both cases, Lewis was running down the field with speedy receiver Brandin Cooks. Cooks had a step on him, but Lewis showed great ability to make up for it.

Defense didn’t totally dominate the day -- Brees, Ryan Griffin and Garrett Grayson each connected on a deep ball during team drills.

But seeing Lewis and Browner flying around like they were is an encouraging sign, since the Saints’ embattled secondary was arguably the biggest disappointment on the entire team last season.

Lewis has established himself as a true No. 1 corner over the past two years -- arguably the most consistent performer on the defense over that span. But a rotating series of No. 2 corners got picked apart last year by opposing quarterbacks.

The Saints signed Browner in free agency to help bring a physical presence and veteran leadership after he won Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks over the past two years.

The 6-foot-4, 221-pounder has some limitations trying to keep up with quicker, more athletic receivers. But he is one of the biggest, most physical corners in the league and makes his presence felt by jamming receivers off the line of scrimmage and knocking them off their routes. If nothing else, he should give New Orleans an identity it didn't have in that spot last year.

“He has long arms. He’s experienced. He’s smart,” Payton said of Browner. “He understands releases, so he had his hands on a handful of slants. He’s instinctive. He’s one of those guys that finds the football.

“Obviously we feel like he is more effective when he is closer to the receiver [playing press coverage] because of his length.”

Among other highlights from Day 1 of practice:

  • The Saints ran a heavy dose of run plays -- which wasn't too dramatic since they won't be in pads for the first time until Saturday. But there were a few passing highlights. Brees finally connected on a beautiful deep ball to Nick Toon after the defense denied two of his attempts to hit Cooks down the field. Griffin threw a bomb down the left sideline, and receiver Lance Lewis made a great effort to reach it. Grayson's pass was up for grabs between receiver Willie Snead and cornerback P.J. Williams, but Snead made a terrific effort to snag it away.

  • Rookie defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, a fifth-round draft pick, had a pair of nice plays late in practice, recovering a fumbled snap and batting down a pass. Undrafted rookie tackle Bobby Richardson also stood out with an apparent sack against Brees while rotating in with the first string. Starting DE Akiem Hicks also appeared to get inside for a sack -- though no contact with the QBs is allowed.

  • Most of the practice took place in light rain after a heavy downpour earlier in the morning. Coach Sean Payton said it was good for players to deal with the conditions since that's part of football. He was happy with how well the grass fields held up.