BRONCOS

A player to know at Broncos training camp: Baron Browning

Jun 24, 2022, 3:48 PM | Updated: 3:55 pm
Baron Browning...
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Every so often during OTAs, Baron Browning would sprint off the edge or perfectly diagnose a run play.

These moments served as a reminder that his “new” position — edge rusher — is actually old hat for the former Ohio State outside linebacker.

“It’s crazy when it comes to Baron,” edge rusher Bradley Chubb said during OTAs. “The natural skills he has for the position — it’s amazing. You’ll see him go out there and he just throws his shoulder down. To him it feels like he’s doing just that, but on film, it looks like the craziest thing ever.”

The Broncos moved him there this offseason after he made nine starts at inside linebacker in his rookie season. And while working on the edge is familiar, working exclusively there is something new.

“I feel like I haven’t had a chance to work truly, solely at outside,” Browning said in an interview during OTAs.

“Even in college (at Ohio State), I was going back and forth, back and forth, doing both at the same time, so, it felt good to be able to do straight outside and really focus on my pass rush, my technique, my get-off, my steps and my approach — just everything about pass rusher.”

Browning’s progress caught Nathaniel Hackett’s eyes.

“He’s done a really fine job,” Hackett said during OTAs. “He’s somebody that we saw a couple of things on tape last year [and said] that could potentially be something that he can do.

“His ability to bend and lower his hips and round that tackle is something that stood out on tape.”

And those skills are the reason why Hackett, defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and general manager George Paton decided to move Browning back to the edge after what appeared to be a successful fill-in stint at off-ball linebacker during the second half of the season.

To his credit, Browning embraced moving to the edge.

“You’ve got to be flexible,” he said. “I thought I was maybe going to play there last year, but we had injuries. I’m a team-first player. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m going to do, because the team interest is always going to be higher than my own.

“But I wasn’t upset or anything about it. I was looking forward to the opportunity outside.”

That said, he was no slouch working as an off-ball linebacker in 2021. Browning’s play steadily rose as he adjusted. His coverage improved. According to the data compiled by Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks had a 75.4 rating when targeting him in his final four starts. That was a significant improvement over the 98.5 rating allowed when targeted in his first five starts.

Given his position shift inside and the injuries with which he dealt in the offseason and training camp, Browning’s play was a credit to his resilience, adaptability and engagement in meetings.

That last part is key. Browning likes asking questions. The Ohio State graduate is quick to dig for more information.

“Every day is not perfect, but every day I learn — good and bad. I’m constantly learning. One thing about me, I’m never afraid to ask a question, no matter how simple the question may seem,” he said.

“I’m one of the people who feels that I’d rather be safe than sorry. Whether it’s my coach, my DC, my D-line coach, or even the guys in the room, I’m going to ask.”

Often, that’s Chubb.

“We’re trying to keep coaching him up,” Chubb said during OTAs. “He’s come over to the house and asked me what I see from his play. I’m trying to be there for him like Von (Miller) and those guys were for me when I first came in and first moved to the position.”

That collegial atmosphere helps not just Browning, but the entire group of edge rushers.

“Everybody in that whole room, we coach one another up and we look out for one another when we see things,” Browning said.

“I feel like it’s a big, collective group that is just eager to learn from one another, pass knowledge around and just make each other better. There’s no animosity, no not wanting to see somebody get their shine. Everybody’s a team player in that room.”

But on the edge, the team players get their individual moments.

Browning went from being a starter at inside linebacker to working as a backup on the edge through OTAs. But he should have opportunities if the Broncos liberally rotate their edges — or if injuries strike Chubb and/or Randy Gregory. Both spent time on injured reserve last year.

Opportunities to dazzle beyond practice should come for Browning. Sure, he might get fewer snaps this year than last year. But it could lead to a leap forward in terms of his long-term value and prominence — and playing to his strengths.

“There’s nothing more fun than sacking the quarterback,” Browning said.

At his old-but-new position, he’ll get plenty of chances.

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