ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos have posed problems for opposing offensive lines via two young pass rushers in outside linebacker Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper. That duo has combined for 9.5 sacks so far this season, and they could have even more help against the Packers on Sunday.
Outside linebacker Baron Browning is preparing for his potential season debut against Green Bay after missing OTAs, training camp and the start of the regular season with a meniscus tear. The third-year pass rusher out of Ohio State was a full participant in practice this week and was not given a game status for Sunday's game. Though he'll need to be activated off Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform to play against the Packers, he could be in line to play for the first time this year. Head Coach Sean Payton said if Browning returns, he would be on a snap count.
"Man, he is strong, physical, and he's explosive," Payton said of Browning. "… I know we're not going live, but you can see his explosiveness. I would say there are some players that are heavy handed, and he is one of those guys."
Ahead of his potential return, Browning said Denver's young pass rushers are motivated to prove themselves in crucial roles.
"I think [it's] a room who is just hungry and just looking to keep getting better after a lot of the guys who did leave, from Bradley Chubb to Malik Reed to Randy [Gregory] to Frank [Clark], I mean they all left an impact that we only saw internally," Browning said after practice on Friday. "I appreciate those guys a lot and I'm going to miss them, but it's time for the young guys to step up like me, 'Coop' [and] Nik and take advantage of the opportunity."
Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph echoed that sentiment about the Broncos' outside linebacking corps.
"As we go along in the weeks, it's a group that's going to improve," Joseph said Thursday. "Having Baron back, that's going to help us. Having rushers like that, guys who can drop and rush and rush inside [is helpful]. It gives you some variety on third downs, also."
Browning was eligible to play in Week 5 and seemed close to a return in Week 6. Due to the Broncos' "Thursday Night Football" game against the Chiefs, though, Denver only had a walkthrough and an abbreviated practice in the lead-up to that game. Browning has adopted a patient approach to his return to game action and has been diligent in preparing for every opportunity.
"Honestly, I'm just taking it one day at a time," Browning said. "I haven't really talked to [Head] Coach [Sean Payton] much about it, so I'm not sure when they foresee me being out there playing, but I'm just trying to get better and keep crafting until its time."
In 2022 — his second season with the Broncos — Browning flashed his potential by starting eight games and recording five sacks. But just before organized team activities, he found out about his knee injury.
Browning said the most frustrating part of his rehabilitation process was not being able to join his teammates on the practice field.
"It was frustrating, just because I wanted to be out there with my team," Browning said. "When it happened, it was the week before OTAs, so I was looking forward to getting out for OTAs and practicing because I put a lot of work in this offseason. I was kind of upset, not at anybody in particular but just because I love football. I eat, sleep and breathe football, so any chance I have to work my craft, I work it. … I leaned on my faith and that's what kept me even-keeled and [able to] get through it."
As the Broncos approach their Week 7 game, Browning could soon make his long-awaited return to the field.