"We’re going to play him at safety in base downs and then in nickel, we’re going to use him to match up in different spots to play inside," head coach Pete Carroll said during an appearance on 710 ESPN Seattle's "Brock and Salk" show. "So we may be able to develop a really unique role for him."
The Seahawks' defense allowed the fewest points in the NFL last season and finished fourth in overall efficiency. But Carroll's plan for Browner suggests that he might have some tweaks planned for 2016.
Browner's potential role as a safety in the Seahawks' base defense likely correlates to Bruce Irvin's departure. The Seahawks are obviously going to still play with four defensive linemen and two cornerbacks. Linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are not coming off the field. Neither are Earl Thomas or Kam Chancellor. So that leaves the SAM linebacker spot as the only one up in the air.
Browner could potentially play a hybrid safety/linebacker role, setting up in the box against the run but having flexibility to drop into zone coverages.
In sub packages, Browner could serve as an extra defensive back, capable of matching up against tight ends or even big slot receivers.
"We’ve seen him play, back to his New England days, they used him quite a bit inside, and he really matched up on tight ends and slot receivers and things like that," Carroll said. "He matched up well. We’re going to see that develop."
One weakness of the Seahawks' defense last season was its coverage against opposing tight ends, where they ranked 26th according to Football Outsiders.
The Seahawks were almost exclusively a nickel team in 2015. In passing situations, Irvin would move from LB to right defensive end. Michael Bennett would kick inside. One of the defensive tackles would come off the field. And a fifth defensive back like Jeremy Lane, DeShawn Shead or Marcus Burley would come on.
Carroll suggested that could possibly change and the Seahawks could use more dime (six defensive backs). Of course, that would mean a linebacker like Wagner or Wright coming off the field. Both guys have been three-down players.
"I think mainly you’ll see us a little bit more matchup-oriented because the guys give us a chance to do that," Carroll said. "We would always do it if we had the opportunity. That would mean there might be some more dime packages and things like that, rather than nickel."
The guess here is that the Seahawks are trying to develop a specialized role for Browner that addresses some of their weaknesses. That could mean some weeks (specifically when facing talented tight ends), he could be more of a factor than others.
Browner turns 32 in August and was penalized 24 times last season. His contract contains no guaranteed money, meaning he will likely be competing for a roster spot. But based on what Carroll said, the Seahawks seem intent on seeing if Browner can help them in 2016.