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Game Within The Game: Why Bengals DBs Are Among Jake Browning's Biggest Fans

QB jake Browning passes the ball during the Bengals-Jaguars game in Week 13 of the 2023 season.
QB jake Browning passes the ball during the Bengals-Jaguars game in Week 13 of the 2023 season.

When Jake Browning was on the NFL fringe, a quarterback on the practice squad running the scout team, he got the invite from the chairmen.

Chidobe Awuzie and Vonn Bell, running that player-only meeting for the secondary on Tuesday, made the offer for him to attend. Football junkie and gym rat that he is, Browning couldn't turn it down.

"Mike Thomas was in there, too," says Browning of the safety who arrived in the middle of the 2021 Super Bowl run. "I learned a lot from those guys."

Since he dissected the Jaguars on 86% percent passing and 354 yards on Monday night, Browning has gone under the microscope, not to mention winning AFC Offensive Player of the Week.

"The first thing I thought was it's a good thing Deebo (Samuel) is in the NFC," Browning said.

What people are finding out now is that Browning has become a popular sort in his locker room while meticulously preparing for this final stretch of smashups in this AFC demolition derby.

"We've always had guys around the league willing to help, but sitting in a meeting on their day off?" Thomas is saying at his locker at 7 p.m. in this screwy short week. "You can see him right now. Always studying. Making sure he's got the checks now that he's playing.

"Jake has always been willing to help and I think that's why everybody is really rooting for him fully getting his opportunity."

Awuzie, the gifted Colorado cornerback, didn't know Browning. But he knew enough about him. They're both from up near Sacramento way. They're represented by the same agency. They played against other in college when Awuzie's Buffalos ruled the Huskies.

"Ask him about that," Awuzie says.

"We realized how passionate he is about football. How much he knows. We thought it would be a winning advantage having an offensive mind like his in our meeting room. He was as much a part of that Tuesday meeting as anybody. He'd shut out suggestions. Give us pointers on certain things."

Thomas says that offensive perspective actually helped them make game-changing plays the next week.

"He can say, 'No way (is the offense) looking at this guy. They're not even thinking about throwing it. This is what they want. If you can show this, it will mess them up. Or just play this route.'

"That helped us make some plays and get some big-time picks."

Safety Nick Scott arrived from the Super Bowl champ Rams and couldn't help notice the quarterback in the room. That didn't happen everywhere.

"He'd go over the week looking forward. Giving the DBs tidbits, which has been a huge help. He's been doing it awhile, so I'm told," Scott says. "He didn't have to be in there. But he was giving us a look into who was running the offense and what they're thinking.

"I thought it was awesome, him in there knowing what the other offense is doing, and being out there as the quarterback we were going to face. He took the onus upon himself to give us as similar a look to how that quarterback plays as possible."

Like this: Say they were getting ready to play a quarterback like Josh Allen, a guy who likes to run around. Browning may have had somebody open, but he'd still keep the play alive, extending it, giving the DBs the best possible feel.

But that can cut both ways, too. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan talks about how frustrating life can be for a scout team quarterback when you have to make throws you're not supposed to make.

Browning came up with an idea to fight that with the help of Sean Manion, a quarterback he met playing in Minnesota.

"He always kept track of his completion percentage," Browning says. "You can fall into that trap a little bit of, 'I'm just going to test throws and if I throw a pick, really everyone's kind of happy, so there's no repercussions,' but you can fall into some bad habits. That was something in my notes all my whole career. I have every practice and completion attempts, completions, touchdowns, picks, and so just trying to keep track of that a little bit where you're not building bad habits.

"I do the same thing in training camp and really anytime I'm going against the first team defense, no matter what my role is, whether it's a scout team rep or something, I think those are very valuable periods and it's about as close as you can get to a live real game. So taking those seriously and not just throwing up stuff that maybe this will work or maybe it won't, but really processing quickly."

That's how he won over the room. Like Joe Burrow, he leads with the nerdy, necessary details.

"A natural born leader," Nick Scott says. "He cares more about the team and our success as a whole than doing his own thing. He's got the ultimate confidence that we love. It's like having two starting quarterbacks in the locker room. Just how he carries himself. His demeanor, his leadership. It was great to see him do what we knew he could do already do."

Since Browning got the job, he's no longer in there with them on Tuesdays. But the point has been made. He's still looking at the practice notes, fearful the Colts may have picked up something on film.

"Don't just be the guy who had a good one Monday night game and then just kind of fell off. So I'm very paranoid about that probably," Browning says. "But I've seen that happen to guys where they have a good game, or even guys that have a whole good rookie season and all of a sudden the next year defensive coordinators are watching what you did well, and they get a better feel for you and they're really good at what they do.

"So you kind of got to be ready to adapt and adjust and that happens to the best of the best. And so it's bound to happen. And how are you going to respond? And are you prepared for that?"

His DBs have no doubt.

"I tip my hat to him," Mike Thomas says.