Browning growing into middle linebacker role

Bill Rabinowitz
Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning, left, and cornerback Jeffrey Okudah tackle Rutgers running back Isaih Pacheco during Saturday's game. It was the second start at middle linebacker for Browning, a sophomore. [Jonathan Quilter]

Baron Browning enrolled at Ohio State last year as a five-star linebacker.

He played in 12 games in 2017, but mainly in mop-up situations. Whatever he may have thought about that then, he considers it a blessing now.

“I’m glad I did have to wait, because I did have to learn the defense,” Browning said Tuesday as the Buckeyes prepared to play his hometown team, Texas Christian. “That humbling experience, I’m glad I went through it.”

With Tuf Borland being eased back into action following his spring Achilles injury, Browning has started the first two games at middle linebacker.

“I feel like my first game, I was a little nervous, (since it was) my first start,” Browning said. “I feel I played better the second game. I’m trying to get better every week.”

Browning played outside linebacker at Kennedale High School in Fort Worth, Texas, but has been groomed as a middle linebacker at Ohio State. That position is the captain of the defense, tasked with making calls and ensuring that teammates line up properly.

“It’s more responsibility than just being outside and getting the call and then worrying about your job,” Browning said. “You have to take care of everybody.”

He said that he has done well at that part of his job. There were times in the first two games when he looked tentative or took the wrong angle, but that’s to be expected for a young player.

There’s little doubt about his physical skills. Browning weighs 242 pounds but moves like a much lighter player.

“He’s really running sideline to sideline making plays,” acting head coach Ryan Day said. “He has learned a lot from Tuf, and I know Tuf is happy he’s out there playing because you’re going to need depth as the season goes on. Both of those guys are excited about playing and are pulling for each other.”

Borland played only 10 snaps in the opener but considerably more last week against Rutgers. It’s expected that Borland will take over in the middle in the coming weeks if he doesn’t have any setbacks.

But defensive coordinator Greg Schiano has said that the Buckeyes are deep enough at linebacker to be able to rotate. Exactly how that will play out remains to be seen.

“They haven’t said much about it,” Browning said.

Nor did he sound overly concerned with how his role will evolve.

“In our room in general, we have a lot of talented linebackers,” Browning said. “So it’s going to be a big rotation. We have a lot of guys who can play, so we’re going to keep rotating guys in.

“We all help each other. We all know some things better than others. We all communicate and try to help. We correct one another — just positive feedback for each other. We’re a brotherhood so we’re always helping each other.”


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