News broke today that suspended cornerback Brandon Browner was spotted on the Patriots practice field. This is not unusual- suspended players are allowed to attend meetings and work out at the facility. It should be noted that Browner had to be away from the practicing players, but he was outside and in view.
Browner is a week away from returning to active duty, in time for a short-week Sunday night match-up against the Cincinnati Bengals.
While Browner was a headline signing this off-season, the Patriots have found a way to be successful with him on the sideline. According to Football Outsiders, New England boasts the #1 passing defense (and the #1 overall defense) in the entire league.
Some might argue that the team has merely faced quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill, Matt Cassel, and rookie Derek Carr, but that the Patriots can only play who is put in front of them- and they've passed every test with flying colors.
In Browner's stead, the Patriots played Alfonzo Dennard (when healthy) and Logan Ryan, as well as a few snaps for rookie Malcolm Butler. Ryan has played the best out of the trio, but a healthy Dennard deserves consideration.
Browner is penciled in as a starter upon his return- but should that be the case?
While Dennard's injury prevents him from staking a claim to the starting line-up, and no one would argue for Butler over Browner, doesn't Ryan deserve some consideration?
Ryan has played a part in multiple turnovers this season, including a key role of "facemask deflector" to get the ball over to Vince Wilfork to seal the game against the Raiders. More seriously, Ryan has played well and has a knack for forcing turnovers.
The Patriots tried to squeeze Ryan into the secondary as a potential safety across from Devin McCourty, but the emergence of Pat Chung as a viable starter in a cover-one defense adds another wrinkle into a Ryan-full defense.
A fair solution would be to play match-ups, with Browner seeing time against larger receivers, with Ryan playing versus shiftier receivers, but the implementation of that game plan isn't that simple due to offensive shifts and motions.
Browner will have some time to readjust and it's possible that the Patriots try and ease him back into the fold. But if you were to make an argument, who do you think should start across from Darrelle Revis?