Jake Browning will probably make a pretty good football coach. But he is going to have to wait a little while to find out.
In September of 2021, Browning was out of a job. He had just been waived from the Minnesota Vikings and was getting ready to head to Oregon State University to offer his services as a coach - for free, if necessary. But then the Cincinnati Bengals came calling.
Browning jumped at the opportunity to join the Bengals’ practice squad and this year earned the right to be called Joe Burrow’s backup. When Burrow went down with a season-ending wrist injury in a Thursday night loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Browning was the next man up.
“It took four years and damn near a life sentence on the practice squad,” Browning said in an interview with The Athletic recently. “It took four years of doubling down on, ‘Hey, at some point, I’ll get an opportunity.’”
After all of that time, it would have been easy for him to quit. It’s not easy going from the kind of success Browning had enjoyed in high school and college to a life of anonymity. But quitting is not in his DNA.
“A lot of guys get to their third or fourth year on p-squad, and it’s kind of easy to say, ‘I’m just getting screwed, I’m just going to wait until I get my opportunity,’ or you start to question yourself,” Browning said. “Like, I’ve always had a ton of confidence in myself, and I’ve always had the thought that at some point I might get an opportunity. So I would just continue to make those investments in the time and really prioritize my development.”
Browning set the California high school record with 229 touchdown passes. As a senior, he set a national high school record with 91 touchdown passes and ran up nearly 6,000 yards passing.
At Washington, Browning became only the second true freshman ever to start for the Huskies. As a sophomore, Browning led Washington to a 12-2 record and its first conference championship since 2000. He was voted Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and finished sixth in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
For his career, Browning finished with 12,296 yards passing with 94 touchdowns and only 34 interceptions. He completed nearly 65 percent of his passes and added another 16 touchdowns on the ground.
Despite his impressive credentials, Browning went undrafted before being signed by the Vikings as a free agent in 2019. When the Vikings waived him prior to the start of the 2021 season, Cincinnati came calling. And, although he had other opportunities, Browning stuck around, waiting for his chance. And the Bengals were happy to have him.
Browning has always been a hard worker, but it was his football knowledge that really impressed the Bengals’ coaching staff. That, and his willingness to help out in any situation, to be that coach on the field.
“That’s what we see in Jake, not what the public gets to see in Jake,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “When you see a guy like that every day and the work he puts in and how important it is to have an opportunity. He’s been dying for a chance to prove he’s capable of playing NFL quarterback. I’ll let my money ride with guys like that. Those guys tend to find ways to not fail.”
So it came as little surprise to anyone concerned when Browning beat out veteran Trevor Siemian for the backup job this past preseason.
“Guy can really sling it,” wide receiver Tee Higgins said. “He’s a baller.”
And, when he was called on to take over for Burrow midway through the Baltimore game last Thursday night, Browning was ready. He responded by completing 8 of 14 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. He also ran four times for 40 yards.
He faces his biggest moment yet Sunday against the Steelers.