Baron Browning is entering his senior season at Ohio State with four career starts to his credit. He finally found a consistent role last season, splitting time with Tuf Borland at middle linebacker and also causing some havoc blitzing from the edge on passing downs.
In fact, Browning finished fourth on the team with 10.0 tackles for loss and third with 5.0 sacks.
Prior to meeting with reporters Wednesday after practice, Browning was off on the side of the practice field working with defensive ends Zach Harrison and Tyler Friday on some pass rush moves.
As soon as he finally met up with the media scrum, he was immediately asked if he was moving to defensive end.
“I’m not sure yet. I’ll just play wherever they put me,” he said. “They talked with me a little bit about it, so I’m looking forward to it. It’s a little too early to tell anything yet because it’s only the second day of practice.”
Don’t take that to mean that Browning has moved to defensive end, because he hasn’t. He has, however, moved from middle linebacker at the moment, and he could be more involved in rushing the passer this season.
“Potentially, yeah,” said linebackers coach Al Washington. “He has a knack for rushing. That’s well documented. He has a knack for playing in the box as a backer. So we just want to give him a chance to grow his skill set. Just experience as much as he can.”
Much of the linebacker deck is in mid-shuffle right now as the coaches get some crosstraining in and see what each guy is capable of doing. When asked if working on his pass rush moves this spring could lead to something more, Browning didn’t hesitate in his answer.
“Hopefully something more,” he said. “I guess we’ll see. I’m not sure yet, but I’m working on it so if the time comes, I’ll be ready.”
Browning came to Ohio State as a 5-star prospect and the No. 1 outside linebacker in the 2017 recruiting class. When he arrived at OSU, he was put at middle linebacker because Bill Davis — the linebackers coach at the time — wanted him to get an understanding of the entire defense.
After his freshman season, he was moved outside, but then had to move back inside in the spring following an Achilles tendon injury to Tuf Borland. Browning spent the last two seasons in the middle, but now he’s moving away from the middle.
“Sam or Will, I’m not sure yet, so I’ve just been getting to learn both,” Browning said. “They just told me to focus on that, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Browning is still rehabbing an injury and hasn’t been full go in practice, so he doesn’t yet have a home. Senior Pete Werner this spring has moved from the Sam to the Will (at least for the time being), which could leave Browning to compete with sixth-year senior Justin Hilliard and junior K’Vaughan Pope for the Sam ‘backer spot.
Wherever he ends up, it sounds like Browning is happy to be making the move outside.
“I feel like that’s more my natural position,” he said. “I played it in high school so it’s something I’m comfortable doing and I’m excited for.”
Browning did more than just play outside in high school. He even played cornerback when needed — at 240 pounds.
Baron Browning plays CB last night and and gets a pick six. He should fit in well at Ohio State. Via @dwatkinsNBC5 pic.twitter.com/miyfigHkH4
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) December 3, 2016
While he won’t be asked to do anything as dramatic as cornerback, if he is at Sam, there could be times where he is lined up in the secondary, as Werner was last year.
For many reasons, what Browning is being asked to do moving forward will be much different than what he was asked to do in the middle.
“It’s just a different role, being inside versus outside,” he said. “When you’re inside, you’ve got to make sure everybody is aligned. You get everybody set. You’re the foundation of the defense. And outside, I feel like you’re in your own world. They’re two different worlds. It’s just something you have to experience.”
When initially talking about the potential move to a pass rusher, Browning was asked if he was the next Chase Young. In answering, he didn’t miss a beat.
“I’m the next Baron Browning,” he said.
Based on the move, the Ohio State coaching staff would be perfectly happy with the next Baron Browning, and now it looks like they’re going to put him in a better position to give everyone what they want.