COLUMBUS — Baron Browning is one of two defensive five-stars left from Ohio State football’s No. 2 rated 2017 recruiting class.
Browning came to Columbus as the nation’s No. 11 player and the top outside linebacker. Except he hasn’t spent time as an outside linebacker as a Buckeye. He’s played a reserve role in 2018 and rotated with Tuf Borland at middle linebacker in 2019.
His 368 snaps — according to Eleven Warriors — allotted him 43 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and five sacks. He did that without ever being genuinely comfortable in his role on a defense that went from 2018 misery to the top of the country in 12 months.
Recent departures — also from the 2017 recruiting class — left Grand Canyon-wide holes. Browning moving into the role held by Malik Harrison for the past two seasons may solve one of those.
As a weakside linebacker, Browning’s job is to ‘see ball, get ball.’ It’s a much different priority at middle linebacker, where he’s the defensive quarterback. This new role will along him to ultimately tap into the gifts that made him a five-star talent.
Harrison used this role to be among Ohio State’s leaders in tackles. Browning could use this role to blow past the five sacks he put up in 2019. He should be fighting guys Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith for the team’s sack leadership.
The last time a linebacker led the Buckeyes in sacks was Thaddeus Gibson’s five in 2008, a year during which OSU didn’t have a high-level NFL edge rusher. He was followed by James Laurinaitis with four.
The question of whether Harrison and Smith are high-level NFL prospects hasn’t been answered, leaving the door open for a linebacker to lead the way once again. Browning’s new role makes him the best candidate to do so — especially if Smith doesn’t flash as a third-year player and Harrison is still a year away from reaching his potential.
Shaun Wade is the best player on defense; the No. 2 spot is up for grabs. Browning’s resume suggests it should be Browning as a former top-20 recruit. Playing weakside linebacker frees him up to be a playmaker, and his time spent with Larry Johnson and the defensive linemen makes him a viable pass-rusher.
Browning is the only top 50 recruit from the 2017 recruiting class yet to make a significant mark on college football. As a senior playing a role vital to Ohio State’s defensive success, this is his chance. He’s already the Buckeyes’ top returner in sacks.
Four-star linebacker Gabe Powers of Marysville High School, a 2022 target of Ohio State, entered the spring thinking he might be ready to commit in the coming months.
He planned to attend camps and take some unofficial visits that would allow him to validate the impressions he already has. According to the three crystal balls on his 247Sports profile, he seemed to be leaning in Ohio State’s favor.
Then the world shut down, and that plan went out the window along with any chance of committing in 2020.
“I was going around a bunch of colleges and visit try to make it before my junior season,” Powers told cleveland.com. “With everything going on right now, I just don’t know if I’ll be able to make a commitment till next summer.”
Powers’ plan is still to get on some campuses. The recruiting dead period — which is now extended through July 31 — has forced him to wait another 12 months.
The Buckeyes have landed Ohio’s top player in four of the last five recruiting classes with Clemson offensive tackle Jackson Carmen as the exception. That has been head coach Ryan Day’s plan. In 2020 that meant bringing in the state’s top two players. In 2021 it’s the top five and seven of the top 12. In 2022, the Buckeyes already hold commitments from offensive lineman Tegra Teshabola (No. 2) and linebacker C.J. Hicks (No. 3).
Powers is the No. 43 player and the No. 4 outside linebacker in the 247Sports player rankings for 2022. It potentially means another talented young linebacker for the Buckeyes.
Powers stated that he’s been on multiple Zoom calls with linebackers coach Al Washington and that he can see himself playing any of the three spots in OSU’s defensive scheme. As an Ohio native living 32 minutes away from the Ohio State, he’s been on the Buckeyes campus enough times to have an idea of what it’s like.