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Broncos' Baron Browning so far making bosses look smart

Less Belly means quicker Meinerz at right guard. Hackett Hugs can come in hot.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Not all ideas turn out smart in sports, but the Broncos’ football brass is so far feeling good about its collective decision to move second-year linebacker Baron Browning from inside to outside.

The final selection in the third round of the NFL Draft a year ago, the Fort Worth, Texas-area native and Ohio State product has been mixing in with the first-team defense in recent days as the edge linebacker opposite Bradley Chubb.

“Evaluating him when we were in the offseason, seeing his body type and watching some of his bend and how he played – I thought that in this league it’s about getting to the quarterback, first and foremost,’’ Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett said Friday following another jog-through training camp practice on another hot morning at UCHealth Training Center. “You never have too many rushers. We wanted to see what that would look like when he was down there (on the edge). We had tape of him at inside linebacker and it was, ‘Hey, let’s give it a shot and see what happens.’ And I think for us, watching him play that position has been even better than we thought.’’

Nicked up from the second day of rookie minicamp in early May last year until the end of the regular season in early January, Browning still wound up starting nine games at inside linebacker and showed good range while making 58 tackles. Which is great but the AFC West Division is about passers Patrick Mahomes II, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr. The division’s top running backs are Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Josh Jacobs and Austin Ekeler. No disrespect to the running backs, but thwarting the quarterback has to be top priority for the Denver D.

And so Browning, with his superior athleticism, is an outside linebacker. Surprised?

“Not really, I kind of had a feeling,’’ Browning told reporters Wednesday. “I was kind of happy with the change because I was looking forward to be able to do outside work full-time.’’

There have been adjustments.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos linebacker Baron Browning (56) takes part in drills during the NFL football team's training camp Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, at the team's headquarters in Centennial, Colo.

“Inside you have more time to read things, balance your feet,’’ Browning said. “When you’re on the line everything is happening fast. You don’t have too much time to think. So learning how to pin my ears back and be quick and decisive for what I’m seeing and reading.”

He’s got to get a sack or six during the regular season before the switch is deemed a success. But so far, the Broncos’ decision makers believe they made the correct move.

“We kind of have had a feel he might be good there but his ability to bend, his ability to anchor, being able to shut that edge off,’’ Hackett said. “He had a couple moves early when we first got pads on, some up and unders that were unbelievable so watching him progress shows us that … because we didn’t know. You never really know. It was kind of an experiment and I think he’s embraced it and he likes it, too, so it’s fun to see him there.”

Mighty Quinn, Less Belly

The new offensive system Hackett is installing this year requires his offensive linemen to move more and move quicker. It’s the type of system where an offensive lineman doesn’t really want to be nicknamed “The Belly.” Quinn Meinerz came in as a rookie last year dubbed “The Belly,” which was good for his power-blocking and tree bulldozing exploits.

But he lost 10 pounds in the name of agility this year and it’s helping him solidify the starting right guard position.

“I’m right at 320,’’ he said. “I got pretty low during spring, but I think that 315, 320 is a solid weight for me. I feel pretty strong and I still feel really fast.’’

As a Wisconsin native, Meinerz made the ultimate sacrifice with his diet.

“I gave up a lot of dairy products,’’ he said with a laugh. “I had to stay away from the whole milk and the high fat meats. It’s an adjustment, but this is my job and this is what I love to do. It was easy to give them up.”

Hugs from Hackett

Hackett is not from the Bear Bryant or Tom Landry or even Bill Belichick school of coaching. When Hackett sees a player, the first thing he may do is give him a man hug.

“Yeah, I’ve been a hugger since I was born,’’ Hackett said. “I think I came out trying to hug the nurse. It’s one of those things. It’s just who I am. I got it from my grandma; she was the same way—my mom. That’s how I grew up, and I’m not going to change. I’m going to be me. It throws the guys off at first because you come in hot. But hey, it’s me.”

Josey a Jewell but should he be special (teamer)?

Josey Jewell was playing extremely well at inside linebacker last year but he tore a pec muscle making a punt coverage tackle late in the first half of Game 2. He missed the rest of the season. He’s getting paid $6 million this year and it’s likely $5.99 million of it is for his linebacker play.

Jewell broke out in a swallow-the-canary grin when asked if he would be spared from playing special teams this season. “Whatever they want to do, I’m open to anything,’’ he said.

Bronco Bits

The Broncos worked out four long snappers Friday morning, including veteran Matt Overton, who was with the Chargers last year and Broncos special teams assistant Mike Mallory in Jacksonville in 2017-18. Exhale Jacob Bobenmoyer. No long snappers were signed. …

The Broncos will wear pads for Day 10 of training camp Saturday and then players will be off Sunday.

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