A historical look at the uniform numbers for the new Patriots: #39, Brandon Browner
We are in the dead zone of the NFL year folks, that time between the end of mini-camp and the start of training camp. There’s not much to go over that hasn’t already been over-analyzed – so with that in mind here is the thirteenth in a series of historical perspectives on who has previously worn the uniform number of the 2014 additions to the roster of the New England Patriots. Unless noted otherwise all the players listed took part in at least one regular or playoff game in the season listed for the Patriots.
Brandon Browner is the latest members of the Pats to don the number 39; here is a look at those who have preceded them to wear that jersey over the years during the franchise history of the Patriots. For those of you who immediately thought of Sam Cunningham, congratulations and thank you for your longevity as a fan of the Patriots.
39 – Corner Brandon Browner
– The 6’4″ defensive back went undrafted out of Oregon State, and signed with Denver as a rookie free agent in 2005. He never played in a real game for the Broncos though, spending all of ’05 on injured reserve due to an arm injury, and was released at the start of the 2006 training camp. He immediately signed with Calgary, and spent four seasons in the Canadian Football League. During that time he had 12 interceptions, two touchdowns, made 206 tackles, was a three-time CFL All-Star, and won one Grey Cup with the Stampeders.
After the 2010 season ended Browner signed with Seattle. In his first NFL season he started every game for Pete Carroll, with six interceptions and two pick-sixes, and was named to the Pro Bowl. He was suspended for the first four games of 2012 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, reportedly for Adderall. He missed some time last season with a groin injury, and then the NFL suspended him again, for missing drug tests while he was in Canada and not under and any NFL contract; he will miss the first four games of the 2014 season. In his three years with Seattle he had 117 tackles, 39 passes defensed, ten interceptions and three forced fumbles. Browner signed this off-season with the Patriots after drawing interest from the Jets, Washington, Saints and Raiders as well as from the Patriots and Seahawks.
Browner uses his 6’4″, 220 pound body to his advantage with a very physical style of play; even bigger receivers struggle with his pressure. He pushes the envelope when it comes to the five-yard bump zone, resulting in him being among the league leaders in penalty flags thrown in his direction. He is the type of player that you love if he is on your team and detest if he is an opponent, in a manner that is not unlike that of former Patriot great Rodney Harrison. While he does not have elite speed or athleticism, he makes up for that with a long reach and being able to get receivers off their routes at the line of scrimmage. Nick Underhill notes that “when his man could cut over the middle, he often released that player and continued down the field. It is unclear if this wrinkle was because Browner lacks lateral quickness or if was simply the design of the defense. The results were mixed the few times he tracked his man over the middle“.
The bottom line is that his addition to the team strengthens both the top end talent as well as depth in the New England secondary. Browner will be a guy worth watching in preseason, to see how it changes the Patriots defense.
2010-12: RB Danny Woodhead
– After his home state school (the University of Nebraska) did not want him, Woodhead followed his older brother Ben to Division II Chadron (Nebraska) State College. There he had a record-setting career, and was a two-time Division II Player of the Year. He rushed for 1,840 yards as a true freshaman, and two years later set an all-division NCAA record by rushing for 2,756 yards. In his four years at Chadron he ran for an NCAA record 7,962 yards, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. Despite his illustrious college career and gaudy stats, he was not invited to the NFL Combine. At his Pro Day he posted a 4.33 40-yard dash time and a 38.5 inch vertical, that would have been among the best at the Combine, but still went undrafted. The Jets signed him as a rookie free agent in 2008, but he suffered a knee injury in training camp and spent his entire rookie year on the Reserve-Injured list. The following year the club gaffed badly when they waived him on September 14, 2010, to make room for WR David Clowney. Clowney had one reception for the Jets that year, and finished his NFL career with 22 receptions.
The Patriots swooped in and signed Woodhead, though many fans (and even some media members) openly speculated that the transaction was done solely to obtain information on the Jets, whom the Patriots were playing that week. Woodhead took over the roster spot that had been vacated by Laurence Maroney (see below), and was inactive against the Jets; over the next 2½ seasons that would happen just one more time, over a span of 51 games. Kevin Faulk was injured in that Jets game, and would go on season-ending injured reserve with a knee injury. Any concerns were quickly dispelled as Woodhead stepped right in as the new third down back and performed as well if not better than Faulk. He played in 14 games with six touchdowns and 926 yards from scrimmage in 2010, averaging 5.6 yards per carry while catching 34 passes. Before the season was over the Patriots had seen enough productivity to sign him to a two-year extension. Although he is just 5′
8″7″, he showed great toughness as a pass blocker. With his superior receiving ability to go along with his shiftiness running with the ball, comfort in lining up in the backfield or split wide as a receiver, Woodhead created mismatches and headaches for opposing defensive coordinators.
The next season Woodhead helped the Patriots to a 13-3 regular season and a trip to the Super Bowl, and in 2012 he helped was a vital part of the team that went 12-4 and made yet another trip to the AFC Championship Game. In March of 2013 his contract with the Patriots expired, and he elected to sign with the Chargers. Shane Vereen was ready to take over as team’s new third down back, and Woodhead most likely saw more job security – don’t forget NFL contracts are not guaranteed – in San Diego than he did in New England. With the benefit of hindsight, the Patriots should have made more of an effort to re-sign him, but at that point in time nobody knew that Vereen would break his wrist in week one and miss nine weeks, or that Aaron Hernandez would go on a killing spree. New England’s loss was San Diego’s gain, as Woodhead set new personal NFL single-season highs last season with 1,296 all-purpose yards, 1,034 yards from scrimmage, 76 receptions, 605 yards receiving, six touchdown receptions, and eight total touchdowns. Thirty one of his receptions went for first downs, which was the second-most in the NFL for running backs; that was a large reason why San Diego led the NFL in 2013 in third down conversion percentage. He also rushed for a touchdown in the playoff victory at Cincinnati, for his second post-season score, and once again did not miss a single game.
Woodhead finished his career with the Patriots with nine starts and 45 regular-season games played. He rushed for 1,199 yards, which is 25th all-time in club history. His 4.8 yards per carry ranks fifth among those with at least 100 carries, and is second behind only Steve Grogan among players with at least 200 carries. Woodhead also rushed for ten touchdowns, which is 24th all time. His 92 receptions are 50th among all players and 15th for running backs, and the 982 receiving yards rank 46th for all players and 8th for running backs. He scored a total of 88 points, which is tied with Julian Edelman for 52nd most in franchise history, and his 14 total touchdowns rank him in a tie with Edelman, Tom Brady and four others as 45th most in club history.
2006-09: RB Laurence Maroney
– In three seasons at the University of Minnesota, Maroney averaged 6.0 yards per carry while rushing for 3.933 yards and 32 touchdowns. He was one of three players in Big Ten history to rush for over 1,000 yards in each of their first three seasons, and finished second in school history in rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns. The Patriots selected him in the first round, 21st overall, in the 1996 draft. In his rookie season he led the Pats and finished second in the NFL with a 28.0-yard kickoff return average, and led the team is rushing yards seven times. Maroney finished the year second on the team to Corey Dillon with 175 rushes for 745 yards and six touchdowns.
In 2007 Dillon was gone, so Ellis Hobbs took over the kick return duties. Maroney rushed for 835 yards and he scored three touchdowns in the playoffs, tops on the team in the post-season. In the two conference games he rushed for 244 yards, but was limited to 36 yards in the Super Bowl. The next season in the opener against the Chiefs he averaged 5.1 yards on ten carries, but the next week he had just 16 yards on eight carries against the Jets. Maroney suffered a shoulder injury in that game, and after missing two of the next three games he was placed on injured reserve.
After averaging 4.4 yards per carry in his first two seasons, Maroney averaged 3.9 yards in 2009; perhaps more disconcerting was that he fumbled four times after fumbling just once in his first three seasons. Whether it was a lingering physical or mental effect of the previous year’s injury, he seemed far more likely to dance in the backfield than he had previously, infuriating many fans. Still, he led the team with 757 yards on the ground and he rushed for nine touchdowns, and at one point rushed for a touchdown in six consecutive games.
Maroney did not get on the field for the second or third 2010 preseason game, and when he finally saw some action in the final August game it was with the backup offense. Even so, it seemed unlikely to many that his job was in jeopardy; the options were either players well into their thirties (Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk), or the relatively inexperienced BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who had mostly been used only on special teams the previous two seasons. Maroney was inactive for the week one game, and the Pats were able to unload him to Denver when the Broncos found themselves in a bind at the position. Knowshon Moreno, Correll Buckhalter and Andre Brown were all still recuperating from training camp injuries for the Broncos, and LenDale White had been placed on IR. Meanwhile in Foxboro, Maroney had plummeted down the depth chart behind Taylor, Morris and Law Firm, with Faulk as the third down back; a 4th round draft pick for Maroney – a free agent the next year – was a steal.
Four days after Maroney was traded the Pats signed Danny Woodhead to fill the open roster spot. Any concern over who would replace Maroney was soon forgotten; that season Woodhead gained 926 yards from scrimmage and scored six touchdowns, while BJGE rushed for 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns, while never fumbling the ball. Maroney gained just 124 yards from scrimmage in four games with the Broncos, averaging 2.1 yards per carry. He was inactive in every game from week ten on, and then was arrested for possession of weed along with a firearms charge (and later acquitted), in his hometown of St. Louis in the off season. No teams showed any interest in free agency until Washington worked him out the following October, but no offer for a contract was made.
Maroney finished his career with the Patriots with 2,430 yards rushing, which ranks 14th all-time, just behind Leonard Russell and ahead of Mosi Tatupu. His 21 rushing touchdown is tied with Antowain Smith for ninth most in club history, and his 1,062 kickoff return yards is 20th in franchise history. Maroney had 24 total touchdowns, which ties him with Terry Glenn and Andy Johnson for the 24th most on the club’s all time leader board.
2003: FS Shawn Mayer (wore 23 in ’04)
– At Penn State, Mayer led the Nittany Lions in tackles in junior and senior seasons as he finished his career with 252 tackles (147 solo), five interceptions, 1½ sacks and eight tackles for loss. The Patriots signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent on May 2, 2003, but he was released as part of the final roster cuts on August 31. The Pats signed him to their practice squad the next day, and activated him to the 53-man roster on October 19. He ended up playing in nine games and ranked fifth on the team with 13 special teams tackles, and was on the roster for all three playoff games. In the Super Bowl 38 victory against Carolina, Mayer was on the field at safety for most of the second half after Rodney Harrison got hurt. He made one tackle in that game, which ironically was against former high school teammate Ricky Proehl. In 2004 Mayer made the roster out of training camp in part due to his versatility and special teams performance, and played in the first three games, mostly on special teams, before being released on October 5.
As a member of the Patriots, Mayer played in twelve games with 17 tackles, plus three playoff games with four tackles. In terms of memories about playing with the Patriots, he says that “Bill Belichick is one of the best to run the team like a business” and that “he’s a real smart guy and puts a lot time in to put together winning teams. He also states that he still stays in contact with Asante Samuel, whose locker was adjacent to his, and that Tom Brady “is a very good guy, down to earth, and real quiet, not saying much and very professional in what he does”.
The Falcons signed Mayer and allocated him to NFL Europe in 2005. He was an All-NFL Europe player, tying a league record with three interceptions in one game, while setting a Hamburg Sea Devils single season record with five picks. Cleveland sent him to NFL Europe again in 2006, but when he returned he tore his MCL during training camp. The Browns gave him an injury settlement, and after one more trip to NFL Europe his playing days were over.
After hanging up his cleats, Mayer worked until 2009 as a personal trainer at HealthQuest in his native New Jersey, specializing in speed and agility training. Mayer then spent one year as an assistant football coach at South Brunswick (NJ) High School, and was a defensive backs coach at Fairleigh Dickinson. He then spent one year as a special teams coach and player development coach at Rutgers, and in 2013 was the defensive backs coach at Widener University. Today Mayer has moved on from coaching football, and is a commercial insurance agent at Farm Family Insurance in Hillsborough, New Jersey.
1999: CB Rico Clark
– A three-year starter at Louisville, Clark was an All-Conference USA selection and finished his college career with 264 tackles, six interceptions and 24 pass breakups; the picks and passes defensed still rank in the top ten in the Cardinal’s history. Perhaps overshadowed by teammate Sam Madison, Clark went undrafted and signed as a rookie free agent with Indianapolis in 1997.
Clark played in all 16 games in 1998 for the Colts, but during the season a former Louisville student sued Clark and four other one-time Cardinal football players for damages for beating him during a pickup basketball game in 1995. After the Colts released him during the 1999 training camp, Cincinnati claimed him off waivers. He played in eight games with one start before the Bengals released him on December 14, with Bruce Coslett continuing a revolving door of corners for his 31st-ranked defense.
Two weeks later the Patriots signed Clark when they were down to just one healthy corner. Ty Law had just been placed on IR with a broken hand, starter Steve Israel had an ankle injury and Tebucky Jones had a knee injury. That left backup Kato Serwanga as the only healthy corner. Three days later he played in his one and only game with the Pats, a 20-3 victory over Baltimore, as the third corner behind Serwanga and another newly signed player with a very brief career with the Pats, Terry Billups.
In 2000 Clark played for Amsterdam in NFL Europe, but that game with the Patriots was the final one of his NFL career. He played in a total of 29 NFL games with three starts and two interceptions over three seasons. In 2001 Clark played for the Memphis Maniax of the XFL, registering 48 tackles and one interception.
1988-91: RB Marvin Allen
– In 1987 Allen led Tulane – then coached by current Texas coach Mack Brown, in his third season as a college football head coach – with ten touchdowns rushing, and was second on the Green Wave in receptions and receiving yards. After graduating from Tulane, the Patriots selected Allen in the 11th round, 294th overall, in the 1988 draft. A solid 5’10” 208 pounds, he was seen as being more of a fullback than tailback. Allen played in the first eleven games of his rookie season almost exclusively on special teams, excelling on coverage units while also 18 kicks for an average of 21.7 yards before missing the final five games with a left shoulder injury. In the 1999 season opener against the Jets he ripped off a run of 18 yards, but then injured his right shoulder. He did not play after week five, eventually landing on IR for the second straight season.
The Patriots released Allen at the end of training camp, but re-signed him on October 29, 1990. He played in each of the final nine games of the season, temporarily replacing John Stephens as the primary ball carrier. In his first start he rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown against the Colts, but the losses kept coming for Rod Rust, and eventually he went back to Stephens as his starting back. In 1991 he played in 15 games, again excelling on special teams. On October 20 Allen recovered a fumble in overtime against Minnesota to set up a game-winning Jason Staurovsky field goal. That gave new head coach Dick MacPherson his third win of the year, tripling the amount of victories the Pats had the previous season, and at 3-4 Patriot Nation was full of renewed enthusiasm for the team. Unfortunately that was the pinnacle of the Macpherson era; the Pats would go 5-20 over the next year and a half, bottoming out with the names Lisa Olson and Zeke Mowatt dominating the headlines the next season.
Allen fortunately missed all that turmoil – during the 1-15 1990 season he would sometimes publicly deny he was with the team – as 1991 turned out to be his final year as a player in the NFL; he was waived as part of the final roster cuts just prior to the start of the season on September 1, 1992. He finished his career with three starts in 37 games played, 378 yards rushing at 4.0 yards per carry, two touchdowns, 43 kick returns for 844 yards, and seven fumble recoveries. His 844 yards returning kicks was at that time 14th all-time in franchise history, and is 26th on the career leader board today.
In 1993 Allen returned to the Patriots, working in the player personnel department for the better part of 16 years as one of the team’s area scouts. Allen then rejoined his former boss, Thomas Dimitroff, when he took the position of Eastern Regional Scout with the Atlanta Falcons in 2009. After four years there he moved further up the ladder to become the Kansas City Chiefs’ Director of College Scouting, a position he still holds today.
1973-82: RB Sam Cunningham
– Before being drafted, Cunningham had a key role in a milestone moment in college football. In 1970 the color barrier for the football team at the University of Alabama had still not been broken. In his first game for USC, Cunningham rushed for two touchdowns in the first quarter, and finished with 135 yards on just twelve carries, as the Trojans crushed the Crimson Tide 42-12 in Birmingham. The home defeat was so devastating that the school and its fans finally relented and allowed head coach Bear Bryant to integrate the team, as it became obvious that their team could not compete as an elite program if George Wallace and his followers insisted on fielding an all-white team.
In three seasons at USC, Cunningham rushed for 23 touchdowns, including 13 in his senior year. New coach and GM Chuck Fairbanks selected Cunningham with the eleventh overall pick of the 1973 draft. Over the next six seasons Fairbanks’ teams revitalized the franchise as they went on to post five consecutive winning seasons and a pair of 11-win seasons , and Cunningham was a very large part of that success. Despite splitting the carries with Mack Herron, Andy Johnson and others, during that time he rushed for 4600 yards, averaged 1,030 yards from scrimmage, and scored 40 touchdowns.
Despite missing a full season due to a contract dispute, Cunningham is the Patriots’ all-time rushing leader with 5,453 yards. His 43 rushing touchdowns are second in team history, just two behind Jim Nance’s 45. At the time he retired he held the franchise record for total touchdowns with 49, a record that has since been surpassed by Stanley Morgan (68), Ben Coates (50) and Randy Moss (50). Cunningham also is the club career leader in rushing attempts (1,385), and is one of a select group to have played in over 100 games with the Patriots. He was named to the Patriots’ 1970s All-Decade Team and to the 50th Anniversary Team. In 1977 Cunningham averaged 99 yards from scrimmage per game, rushing for 1,015 yards while adding another 370 yards on 42 receptions. In 1978 he was the leading rusher on the team that set the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season, and was finally named to the Pro Bowl. In 2010 Cunningham was enshrined to the Patriots Hall of Fame as well as the College Football Hall of Fame.
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