New position? No problem: Denver Broncos believe in Baron Browning as a pass-rusher

Denver Broncos second-year player Baron Browning has moved from inside linebacker to the outside and the early results have been "crazy." AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Denver Broncos linebacker Baron Browning closed out his rookie season in 2021, he was considered one of the bright spots on an otherwise fairly gloomy sixth consecutive playoff miss.

The third-round pick had rebounded from some offseason injuries -- he suffered a right leg injury in rookie minicamp -- to start nine games at inside linebacker. He played more snaps on defense than any other linebacker save Malik Reed.

And then -- despite all of the potential displayed as a rookie -- the Broncos' new coaching staff moved him outside to be an edge rusher this offseason. Teammates say the move has worked.

"It's crazy when it comes to Baron," said Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb. "The natural skills he has for the position, it's amazing. You'll see him go out there and he just throws his shoulder down. To him it feels like he's doing just that, but on film, it looks like the craziest thing ever."

When the Broncos closed out their offseason program last month, Browning had already done enough to move past the hey-that-guy-is-pretty-raw stage of a position move. When they return in July, Browning will be at the front of a wave of pass-rushers general manager George Paton has sought this offseason.

Chubb, who missed nine games last season after left ankle surgery, closed out the team's offseason work healthy and says he believes he's poised for a big year. He is in the final year of his rookie deal.

The Broncos signed Randy Gregory to a $70 million deal -- the team's biggest offseason move outside of the trade for quarterback Russell Wilson -- with the intention of pairing Gregory with Chubb as the primary outside rushers. But Chubb hasn't played a full season's worth of games since his rookie year in 2018 and Gregory has never played every game in a season.

It's why the Broncos used a second-round pick on outside linebacker Nik Bonitto and moved Browning. It's why Browning, who would have entered the season in line to push for the starting inside linebacker job once again, said he wasn't worried about what a position move could mean for his potential playing time.

"I kind of wanted to make the move, but they felt the same way, Browning said. "... I didn't have any concern at all. I'm just focused on competing every day and that's my mindset. ... I'll worry about training camp when I get there."

"He's somebody that we saw a couple of things on tape last year, that [being a pass-rusher] could potentially be something that he can do," said Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett. "His ability to bend and lower his hips and round that tackle is something that stood out on tape."

Hackett doesn't see Browning as a hybrid player who would work both as a pass-rusher as well as at inside linebacker. He said the team's defensive coaches want to focus on Browning's new role with the intention of refining those skills.

And by all accounts he showed enough on the field, especially when it comes to his flexibility and keeping his balance and leverage as he works off the offensive tackle's outside shoulder. Former Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller routinely talked about the importance of "bend," to get under a tackle's shoulder and arm, while keeping speed and leverage.

After learning from Miller, Chubb is now passing along what he knows to Browning. Chubb knows something about changing positions, too. He played more as a defensive end in college, often rushing from a three-point stance, but was moved to outside linebacker with the Broncos, almost never in a three-point stance.

"He's come over to the house and asked me what I see from his play," Chubb said. "I'm trying to be there for him like Von and those guys were for me when I first came in and first moved to the position. It's been great to see the natural things he has already. Once he starts adding in those little, small details, it's going be to over with."

The Broncos' division -- the AFC West -- is filled with proven quarterbacks and after an offseason flurry, high-end pass-rushers as well. The Broncos' signing of Gregory, the selection of Bonitto in the draft and Browning's crash course was their response.

"[Browning] displayed some things," Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said. "... He has worked his butt off."