Baron Browning has yet to play his first snap of Ohio State football, but that hasn’t stopped the expectations. Or the stories.
The top outside linebacker in the 2017 recruiting class, Browning had his choice of schools. Ultimately, he selected Ohio State, even if he told Urban Meyer he was headed to Alabama.
Browning enrolled early at Ohio State so that he could take part in winter conditioning and spring football. Everything was going fine for Browning, up until a shoulder injury that ended his spring camp.
Working at middle linebacker early on and sporting the same No. 5 as the departed Raekwon McMillan, it was impossible not to compare the two. McMillan came to Ohio State as a 5-star signee just like Browning. They were both High School All-Americans, and they both enrolled early. Browning worked with the second unit in spring practice, just like McMillan did as a true freshman.
But then the shoulder injury came.
It was actually a re-injury of a shoulder issue he had in high school. It poses no threat to his freshman season, but it sure did put a damper on his spring.
The way his teammates spoke about him before the injury, however, it was almost predictable.
“A lot of talent,” linebacker Jerome Baker said of Browning four days before he was injured during practice. “A lot of raw talent. He’s learning that it’s not high school. You can’t just throw your body in there and expect the best. So, he’s definitely learning. He’s got some learning curves, but he’s a raw athlete. Very raw athlete.”
Despite the injury, Browning showed enough to both his head coach and position coach that they believe he will see the field this season.
“As of now he’ll play this fall, based on what he was doing,” Meyer said just days after the injury.
“Oh yeah,” linebackers coach Billy Davis said this spring. “Baron is a big boy that moves well. He’s still coming from the high school football scheme and he’s got to transition, and that was what spring was going to help him with. But I’m very confident that with a lot of work and time and effort put in between now and fall he’ll be okay.”
While Browning was projected as an outside linebacker by the recruiting services, he has begun his Buckeye career inside. Why?
“He could go to an outside spot, but as a freshman coming into camp, I gave him the Mike to learn first,” Davis said. “I think once you learn the Mike, the Will and Sam become easier.”
Learning is the one thing that Browning has been able to continue doing despite the injury. He was expected to be fully healthy by June, so the on-field work will continue picking up prior to fall camp in five or six weeks.
Once camp does begin, Davis expects Browning — and fellow injured-shoulder-having teammate Malik Harrison — to be ready to make a push for time.
“You never want them to miss the reps of spring ball – that’s invaluable,” Davis said. “So, it’s a shame they missed any. Baron got hurt really early, and he was just figuring out what he didn’t know. So, we were at the very beginning with him. He got hurt, missed some valuable reps. We were disappointed that he missed those, but we are glad that in the fall he’s going to get those because the surgery was needed. Malik was really having a good spring and really coming along, and then he had the same thing. So, it was the right move to make at this time because they’ll be back in fall camp.”
The last time Ohio State had a freshman middle linebacker in the two-deep was Raekwon McMillan in 2014. They went on to win a national title that year.
Can Browning provide the same type of support in 2017? The Buckeyes sure wouldn’t hate it.