Denver Broncos sophomore linebacker Baron Browning was incredible in Saturday’s 17-7 preseason victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Browning totaled three tackles, including one for a loss, one sack, and one pass breakup. Browning was also credited with recording five pressures and four hurries. Browning lived in the Cowboys’ backfield.
It was the type of performance the Broncos have been waiting for. Browning appears poised for a breakout campaign while playing a crucial role in Denver’s defense. Browning’s performance notably captured the attention of new Broncos Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett.
“His acceleration on the ball and ability to bend on the edge was really good to see,” coach Hackett said during his post-game press conference. “He played free and it was awesome. We’ll evaluate it more, but he’s doing a great job,” Hackett concluded.
The No. 106 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, Browning has benefited from a position change this summer. The former Ohio State product is now playing the EDGE position despite starting nine games at inside linebacker last season. Browning embraced the change with open arms, admitting it’s his preferred position at this level.
“I was happy to be moved outside,” Browning said earlier this offseason. “I wanted to be there last year and I’m glad things worked out the way they did.”
Browning didn’t look like a defender experiencing a position change against the Cowboys on Saturday. He showcased several traits that should help him apply constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season. Browning hit a vintage outside spin move en route to recording his first preseason takedown on unsuspecting Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush.
Baron Browning with the outside spin sack before halftime. @baronbrwnng shows great balance/body control to get the QB down
Perfect time to execute a move like that is last drive before halftime/end of game. You save the movement so it surprises the OL! #passrush #broncoscountry pic.twitter.com/dlBgkyMRJO
— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) August 15, 2022
The Broncos seem committed to keeping Browning at EDGE despite a concerning lack of depth at inside linebacker. Jonas Griffith suffered an elbow injury against the Cowboys that may keep him sidelined for 4-6 weeks. Broncos general manager George Paton responded by signing veteran inside linebacker Joe Schobert on Monday. It indicates the Broncos’ plan to keep Browning at his new position despite Griffith’s absence. It’s a good sign for Browning’s outlook.
The Broncos are debuting a new-look pass rush in 2022. Big things are expected from Bradley Chubb, who was limited to seven regular-season appearances and zero sacks in 2021 after undergoing ankle surgery last Fall. Chubb is playing on the fifth-year player option and hopes to recapture the form that once led to a 12-sack rookie season. The Broncos added some insurance in case Chubb continues to struggle with injury in the form of Randy Gregory. Gregory signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Broncos in free agency.
Chubb and Gregory are expected to begin the season as Denver’s starters at EDGE, giving them a tandem that’s capable of producing 20-plus sacks at their best. Both Chubb and Gregory have had issues staying on the field as of late (albeit for different reasons). Browning provides crucial depth behind them and should receive plenty of opportunities as a rotational pass rusher and fill-in starter. Browning’s positional versatility will also allow new Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero to get creative with his usage. A third-down defensive package that includes all three of Gregory, Chubb, and Browning is plausible, if not likely.
Browning’s rookie season was a rollercoaster. He earned considerable playing time due to injuries but often looked lost as a traditional inside linebacker, earning a horrid run defense grade of 40.0 from Pro Football Focus. Browning looks revitalized at this new position. Denver’s new coaching staff is putting Brown in a position to succeed as a second-year player. Look for Browning to make a significant impact on the Broncos’ defense in 2022.
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