Jake Browning knew what he had to do. He knew he had to build strength in his right arm, and he knew he had much to prove to NFL scouts.
The question he had been pondering for a while was … how?
How, coming off a Jan. 1 Rose Bowl appearance, with less than two months before the NFL scouting combine, less than four months before the 2019 NFL draft, could the former Washington Huskies quarterback remake his right arm and convince scouts and executives — and maybe even you, the longtime skeptical observer — that he was a legitimate pro prospect?
Browning needed help.
Naturally, he started with a baseball bat.
To kick off his winter makeover, Browning moved to Southern California and turned to the team at 3DQB, a biomechanics throwing program based in Orange County. Browning was put through a series of initial tests and asked some introductory questions.
One question struck Browning: Did you ever play baseball?
No, Browning replied.
What about golf?
No, Browning replied.
This was a first clue for Adam Dedeaux about where to begin a reboot of Browning. The basic biomechanics that most baseball players are taught in T-ball — the hip turn and core torque required to hit a baseball — Browning had never learned. His body hadn’t been conditioned for that, and, it turns out, the same movements needed to swing a bat are essential for an optimal throwing motion.
So Browning was hooked up to 4-D motion sensors that recorded his movements and gauged his strength, and then given a baseball bat to swing. Tests showed Browning generated roughly the same amount of power while standing up and swinging the bat as he did when he swung on his knees.
This provided a vital diagnosis for Browning’s mechanics: He wasn’t properly using his core, his hips or his lower half for his throws. Or as Dedeaux described: “He wasn’t mechanically connected.”
And this was good news.
Many of the NFL’s top quarterbacks — among them, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff — train in the offseason with 3DQB, the brainchild of Tom House, a former left-handed major-league pitcher (who spent two seasons with the expansion Seattle Mariners in 1977-78) and longtime pitching coach.
The 3DQB specialists — Dedeaux, a former USC pitcher; John Beck, a former NFL and Brigham Young QB; and Taylor Kelly, a former Arizona State QB — also help train select NFL draft hopefuls each year. Dedeaux said most of the quarterbacks who come through have already maxed out on their strength; they usually come to 3DQB looking to refine their mechanics or be more efficient.
Browning was different.
“With most guys … we can find through strength or mechanics that we can get more out of them,” Dedeaux said. “With (Browning), it was ‘OK, there’s something already there. We don’t have to build — we have to tap into it. Let’s find it.’ ”
• • •
In 2015, Browning became the first true freshman in modern UW history to open a season as the starting QB. In the sixth start of his career, in the fourth quarter of a tight rivalry game at Husky Stadium, he absorbed a hit from Oregon’s DeForest Buckner, landing on his throwing shoulder.
Browning would miss the Huskies’ game at Stanford a week later — the only game he would miss in four years — because of what was diagnosed as a tear in his acromioclavicular (AC) joint.
After the Stanford game, trainers advised Browning that he could play with the injury — he couldn’t damage it further, he was told — and he returned to the field two weeks after the initial hit. Before the game against Arizona on Halloween night in 2015, Browning had an injection to numb the pain in his shoulder, and that night he completed 16 of 24 passes for 263 yards with four touchdowns and no turnovers in UW’s 49-3 victory.
The injections continued before games for the rest of his freshman season, and they resumed in September 2016 after Browning’s shoulder was re-injured in an overtime victory at Arizona — an injury that occurred, he revealed recently, much earlier than initially thought that season.
Even with the injured shoulder, Browning would throw a Pac-12-record 43 touchdown passes in 2016 and lead the Huskies to their first College Football Playoff appearance, against Alabama. He had another injection before that playoff game, and his shoulder was heavily bandaged.
“I had to go through some crazy stuff just to play in that game,” he said. “Six days later, I had surgery.”
The injury, he has insisted, did not limit him during his final two seasons at UW. But he was aware — well aware — of the main criticism of him, and he said he worked diligently each offseason to improve his arm strength.
“I didn’t have a weak arm because of a lack of will,” he said. “I was always looking to make my arm stronger. Come work out with me sometime — I will destroy you.”
• • •
Browning’s right arm helped the Huskies win 39 games over four years — more wins than any other quarterback in Pac-12 history — but that arm, as it was, was likely not going to get Browning on an NFL roster.
One NFL talent evaluator said Browning’s arm strength was a “major concern” coming out of college. That same evaluator watched Browning closely at the NFLPA Bowl game — played in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 23 — and again at the NFL combine six weeks later.
“I did a double take,” the scout said. “I thought, ‘This doesn’t look like the same kid.’ … I really thought he had one of the livelier arms at the combine.”
Sixteen quarterbacks participated in throwing drills at the NFL combine, and the average speed on their throws was 54.75 mph, according to the scouting service OurLads.com. Browning’s velocity was 54 mph, which measured as the same speed as Duke’s Daniel Jones and Missouri’s Drew Lock — both potential first-round choices — and ahead of Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins (52 mph).
“Going side by side with a bunch of other guys who are getting a lot of hype, I feel like I held my own and proved myself,” Browning said.
The NFL scout predicted Browning could be a Day 3 selection during the NFL draft this week, perhaps going as high as the fifth round.
• • •
Browning’s turnaround started with a simple turn of his hips. The mechanical adjustments were more complex than that — his body had to be, using Dedeaux’s word, “rewired” to better incorporate his core muscles and his legs, among other things — but the changes began to take shape fairly quickly during his 3DQB training.
“Once he started to figure it out — how to use his lower half — the ball started to pop,” Dedeaux said.
Browning spent the better part of three months in Orange County reshaping his techniques. There were days Dedeaux ordered Browning to rest and, well, the QB would show up anyway at Golden West Junior College, eager to throw.
“The work ethic was never in question,” Dedeaux said. “What’s awesome is he had the success he had in the Pac-12 when — let’s just say he wasn’t operating at full potential. And I’m not saying he is now. There’s still a ton of development left. Now he needs to carry over everything he’s working on into games.”
At UW’s pro day this month, Browning had noticeably more oomph on his fastball. His arm, he said, has never felt better, and he’s convinced he is a more accurate thrower, too.
“I went down to California and kind of was given the answers: ‘OK, here’s how you get more arm strength.’ That’s an indescribable feeling,” he said. “Everyone tells you you have some issue for four years, (but) no one really tells you how to fix it.
“Then to have a guy tell you how to fix it? It’s pretty nice.”