Considering Baron Browning was the nation’s No. 1-rated outside linebacker prospect coming out of a Forth Worth high school in 2017, his college career at Ohio State didn’t live up to his billing.
The Broncos’ third-round pick at No. 105 overall, Browning played in 43 games at Ohio State but started just seven. Coaching turnover and position switches stifled his ability to carve out a specific role.
But now, Browning will have a chance to focus on one position. The Broncos want him playing inside linebacker as well as being a core contributor on special teams. That honed focus for the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder will pay big dividends, said Richard Barrett, Browning’s coach at Kennedale High.
“Even when he was going through ups-and-downs at Ohio State, he hung in there and he stayed mentally strong,” Barrett said. “He knew his time was coming, even though he was playing multiple positions and doing so many different things for the Buckeyes.
“And now it has. Now, he’s going to settle in with the Broncos at a position where his upside is tremendous.”
Browning believes “playing one position allows you to play faster,” and he will be expected to immediately compete for time at inside linebacker — and provide the team depth there — behind incumbent starters Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell as well as Justin Strnad, who missed his rookie season with a wrist injury.
While Browning’s speed and explosiveness were considered strengths heading into the draft — he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, had a 40-inch vertical jump and a 10’10” standing broad jump — he doesn’t want “to be known as a guy who is (just) an athlete.”
“When you’re asked to do so many jobs (like I did at Ohio State) — I embraced that role and I feel like I’m a very selfless player and a team player — it’s hard to find all the small intangibles and critique yourself the same way you could if you’re playing one position,” Browning said. “I want to be known as a guy who is a technician….doing everything possible to keep developing my skill set to become a technician.”
Freed up mentally to focus on one position, Browning believes his best football is ahead of him. Underscoring that confidence are deep family football roots. Browning’s father, Barry Browning Sr., played safety for TCU in the late 1990s while older brother Barry Jr. was a three-year letterman at cornerback for Stanford from 2011-13.
“An athletic family would be an understatement,” Barrett said. “(Those three) would train together all the time when Baron was back, and his family is football-obsessed and they’ve helped drive him and keep him on track toward the NFL.”
Broncos coach Vic Fangio expects Browning to have growing pains this year considering his lack of positional focus in college. But while Browning might need more time than normal to develop at inside linebacker, the Broncos believe in his potential.
That’s been evident since the night when he was drafted, when general manager George Paton decided Browning “was too special to move back” from the final selection of the third round, though he considered trade offers.
“It’s always different gymnastics every time you undertake a linebacker that has some versatility,” Fangio said. “We are going to leave him at inside linebacker here for a good bit, see how he does and go from there.”
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