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Browning Making His Mark at Cal

August 31, 2021

One of the hits of fall camp was the performance of a deep, though somewhat young defensive line. The depth is a stark contrast to the 2020 abbreviated season, where the Bears played three primary DL most of the minutes because of injuries and Covid restrictions.

“Yeah, it's been great,” said Browning. “Obviously, a lot of this stuff that we're doing on defense has remained the same. But there are some new things that we're doing, which has been great to get in there and get with the guys and have something new to work on. We're always working, whether it's the old stuff or some of the newer stuff we're doing, but it's been really great.”

Browning was asked if there was a type of player he and the staff look for in a defensive lineman.

“I really believe it's a very fundamental position, but I also think it's a mentality position,” said Browning. “I think you have to have great energy to play defensive line. You got to have mental and physical toughness and you have to compete. And I think those are as important as the physical side, which we're always working on. I think that the mentality piece is really, really important, especially in young defensive linemen as leaders.”

Browning draws from his own playing experience as a former DL at Boise State as well as some of the coaching he received there along the way, incorporating it into his coaching style.

“I think just the way we were wired from the coaches that I had... kind of that same thing -you have to bring energy, you gotta play tough and you gotta compete,” said Browning. “Personally, because I was not very talented, I kind of gravitated to the fundamentals and technique and that's kind of what got me through.  So I think it's something special when you have guys that are wired the right way mentality-wise and they have good fundamentals and technique and they have talent. I think that's when you're dealing with something that's really, really special.

“I think all the guys in the room and all the coaches on our staff, I think we take pride in teaching fundamentals. Cause you know, the scheme is the scheme. It kinda tells you where to line up and where to finish. But how you do it, that's the ingredients. Fundamentals, how you do those things and how you’re able to replicate that consistently. It all comes down to your technique and your fundamentals.”

Browning has liked what he’s seen thoughout camp as the Bears get ready for their season opener vs. Nevada on Saturday night at Memorial.

“It's been great,” said Browning. “I think perhaps, maybe going into my third year here, this is the most healthy bodies that we've had in that room, just in terms of the numbers. We've obviously got a range of some older guys and some guys that are fairly young, in their second year, in their first year. I think there's really good depth, and I think there's really good talent in that room now. We have a lot of work to do, a lot of development that needs to happen. I’m pleased thus far with the progress they've made, but we have a lot of steps we still need to take. But it's been fun to have all those bodies.”

With the season ending injury to defensive line stalwart Brett Johnson in the spring off the field, the Bears’ DL could’ve taken a major hit. But the return of seventh year -that’s right- seventh year DL Luc Bequette who transferred back to Cal from Boston College, was a major boon for the Cal defense. He teams with junior JH Tevis to form a veteran tandem for the Bears at defensive end.

“Luc, obviously he’s been playing for a really long time, played here for a long time,” said Browning. “JH is going into his, I believe his fourth year in the program. And given a lot of experience last year and a little bit the year before, obviously they've been around and seen some things.  It's just really great when you have guys that know the scheme really well, and they can communicate with some of the younger guys, guys that have been through and been taught the same technique and fundamentals in practice. They can kind of talk to the guys in the back of the line, give them some pointers, and then they do a good job. Just reinforcing the mentality that we want to have in the room. So it's been awesome having those guys around the other guys.”

Browning crop of 2020 d-line was particularly impressive and showed flashes their freshman seasons of what they could accomplish followed by strong springs and summers to build on their talent. Nose tackles Rickey Correia and Stanley McKenzie and defensive ends Ethan Saunders and Jaedon Roberts combine the type of elite size and strong ability to impact Cal’s DL for years to come.

“The Class of 2020, I love those guys,” said Browning. “Stan, Rickey, Jaedon, Ethan. “Awesome. I love those guys. Every single one of them when they first got here last year -Jaedon was here in the spring- every single one of the guys has improved physically with their strength and size, movement patters. And I think their game since they first got here, they’ve really improved on some of their own particular areas. But I’ve been really happy with how those guys have been working. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”

With the wealth of young talent on the DL, how does the staff determine who will play and how much they’ll see the field?

“Our kind of philosophy on the defensive line is as many guys that show the ability to be able to execute -execute the scheme, execute the fundamentals in the middle, and technique, and be consistent have a chance to play,” said Browning. “There's a lot of guys that can have different roles that maybe are stronger in some things and others guys show they can do that. We want to get as many guys involved in the game plan as we can. And so, absolutely I think really right now they're taking the approach -really the whole room- that everybody's kind of trying to work to develop themselves. to get consistent, and then kind of find their role and where they fit in, in some of these different packages.”

A couple of the new arrivals at defensive end have shown the promise to match their high prep recruiting rankings and offer lists coming out of high school in frosh DEs Derek Wilkins and Akili Calhoun throughout much of camp.

“Derek and Akili really from practice one to to now,” said Browning. “I can't wait to get downstairs and watch the tape. I saw them flash a couple of times today. They've really improved day one , day two , from there, where they were at from a technical standpoint to where they're at now. I've really been pleased with that.  I'm going to say the same thing over and over again. They got a lot of work that they got to do, but I’m very, very, very pleased with what they've done thus far. And  I think a lot of those guys from the ‘20 class, they all have very bright futures.”

Browning has been a hit on the recruiting trail, bringing in consecutive classes stocked with talented d-lineman, with three more top flight ‘22 DL to join them next season in DEs Jaxson Moi and Nate Burrell and physically-dominant NT Damonic Williams.

What’s Browning’s secret sauce on the recruiting front?

“I take the thought process that it's a team approach to recruiting and everybody has been working their tails off and has done a good job,” said Browning. “And I think there's a lot of appeal here. Cal appeals to a lot of people. Obviously the Bay Area. It's a beautiful place, beautiful place to go to school. The school itself, not only the campus, but just the quality of the education. And I think probably the biggest thing is kind of the way our team is. It's a family feeling in the building. And I think when people have an opportunity to come here and visit campus and get a chance to be around our players and be around our staff, I think they can feel it. I think that resonates.”

If you talk to his players and recruits, a common theme is that Browning isn’t just a coach to them but a mentor and a friend. That relationship is something that Browning relishes as part of his job.

“Some of the reasons I would imagine -I can't speak for everybody, but the guys that are coaches probably had a really strong coaching figure in their life,” said Browning. “Somebody that they had a real strong relationship with.  Fast forward and you have an opportunity where you're the coach.  I really believe that this is a relationship sport and I really believe strongly in that. And I want to get to know the guys more than just the football part. I want to know how they're doing in school. I want to know how they're doing in life, how their families are, because it's important.”

Browning (37) was a young defensive staffer when head coach Justin Wilcox took a chance on him after seeing him work as a grad assistant at Boise State following his career there then at his 5-year stint as DL coach at UTEP as well as his year assisting on the d-line at Cal as a QC coach before he was elevated to defensive line coach with the program.

“I'm extremely thankful for the opportunity that I've been given, going back to the 2019 season when Coach elevated me to the defensive line job,” said Browning. “I'm forever grateful for that.  I think it's a combination of being a GA, having an opportunity to coach the defensive line at UTEP. And then the year that I was here in 2018 as a QC were all learning opportunities. I'm just very grateful to be sitting here. This is the best job in the world. I love coming to work every day and being around coach  Wilcox, and the rest of the staff, and getting to be around the guys.”

Talking with the individual coaches, it’s not hard to pick up on the fact that the staff is tight and filled with coaches who love their job and enjoy coaching with each other with the environment head coach Wilcox has established in Berkeley since his arrival in 2017.

“It's a family atmosphere,” said Browning. “We have a good time. We obviously work but we enjoy each other's company, and it's a family feel.

“I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.”

Other stories:

With a Week to Go, Wilcox Pleased With Bears

Preseason Preview Offense: Experienced Unit Looking to Bounce Back

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Browning Making His Mark at Cal

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