Staying in the playbook is going to get Baron Browning on the field this season for the Buckeyes.
Browning played in 12 games last season, starting three times at middle linebacker as a true sophomore while Tuf Borland returned from an Achilles injury.
Browning finished with 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and one sack in a mostly reserve and package role.
Throughout camp, however, he has shown that he can be much more than just a backup. Working with new linebackers coach Al Washington, Browning — like everyone else on the Buckeye defense — has hit the reset button and gotten a fresh start.
For Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, it is clear that this new defense is right up Browning’s alley.
“Baron Browning has shown so far that he’s really made a lot of progress in a short period of time,” Day said. “He’s playing mostly in the middle. He’ll move around a little bit, though. He plays fast. He’s very, very athletic that way. He’s physical. He’s big. He’s strong. I think Al is doing a good job with him in terms of understanding and diagnosing plays and being in the right spot at the right time.”
Washington arrived from Michigan in the winter and didn’t really know what he had on his hands, but knew there would be talent. Washington went back and watched film, he watched workouts, and this spring he ran his players through their paces. He did it all over again in the summer and through fall camp.
To a man, the linebackers are excited about the changes on defense and they appear to be blossoming, particularly Baron Browning.
What has Browning done that has worked in camp?
“Being himself. Believing in himself. He is a great player,” Washington said. “And you know what, people keep saying he’s a great player, he’s very bright. He’s probably one of the brightest guys I’ve ever been around. As much as he meets, he is one of the best minds I’ve been around, and I’m being sincere with that. So he’s progressing. He’s playing the way he should play. He’s still gonna get better. I love the way his mind is right now. All he’s focused on is getting better and it’s awesome to see.”
Browning came to Ohio State as a 5-star prospect and one of the top linebackers in the nation. His size (6-3 248), athleticism, and speed have created expectations that would be impossible for almost anybody to live up to. And being a junior, just like established middle linebacker starter Tuf Borland, could create some friction and questions about his future.
Rather than worry about any of that, he is only concerned with himself.
“I’ve just been controlling what I can control and taking one day at a time and just listening to everything Coach Washington, Coach Mattison, and Coach Hafley have been telling me,” Browning said.
In doing so, Browning has caught the eyes of teammates and coaches alike. So much so that there will be more than just a cursory role in this defense for him.
Nobody is speaking about the strategy of where and when to play Browning, but because of his understanding of the defense and his skill set, he could be asked to do any number of different things.
Whatever is needed, he is willing to do. He has responded to his coaches, and his coaches have responded to his attitude.
“My approach, come to practice with a positive mindset every day and just treating every day like it’s a game,” Browning said. “And not just trying to get myself better, but help the guys around me and coach them up, help them get better. Tell them what they’re doing wrong, just like they’re doing to me. So it’s really just a hand in hand thing in our room. We all want to see one another grow and do their best and reach their full potential.”
Baron Browning’s full potential is pretty sizable, but thanks to his unrelenting attitude and irreplaceable aptitude, he’s closer than he’s ever been to reaching it.