Barkevious Mingo battling injuries, misconceptions about his role
By Thomas Moore
Dec 7, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (51) sacks Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Colts beat the Browns 25-24. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
It seems like on every NFL team there is one player that simply can’t catch a break when it comes to injuries.
We’ve seen it before here in Cleveland, most notably with Courtney Brown, the team’s first-round selection in the 2000 NFL Draft. (Has it really been that long?)
Brown only started a full 16 games his rookie season before injuries limited him to just 29 games over his final four seasons in Cleveland. No one ever questioned Brown’s work ethic or attitude, he just simply could not stay healthy enough to become a productive player.
Which brings us to the present and linebacker Barkevious Mingo.
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Mingo is currently recovering from arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, an injury that is expected to keep him out for at least a month. If his recovery takes longer, Mingo could find himself starting the season on the short-term injured reserve list, meaning he would miss the first six games of the season.
“If your guys can do more and you’re not doing more, that’s on you.” – Head coach Mike Pettine
The knee injury comes on top of last season’s torn labrum, which Mingo played through but limited his production as he suited up each week with one arm strapped down to his side by a harness. As a rookie, it was a bruised lung that knocked him out for part of the preseason and the opening game of the season.
If there is a black cloud hanging over team headquarters in Berea, it certainly has had no trouble in finding Mingo.
That’s what makes Mingo’s latest setback so frustrating as, like Brown before him, Mingo gives everything he has when he’s on the field. We’ve seen plenty of players dog it over the years once they’ve put on a Cleveland uniform, but Mingo is not one of them, a sentiment shared by head coach Mike Pettine.
“You always do (sympathize), especially a guy that works that hard, that is that quality a character, an individual that it’s important to him and he puts the time in,” Pettine said after Mingo’s latest setback. “Unfortunately, you have some guys that get some unfortunate injuries but you root for guys like that to come back, and come back and play well.”
“(Barkevious is) a guy who’s obviously very versatile, so we can ask him to do more than what we ask of some of those other guys.” – Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil
While Mingo can control how hard he works to rehabilitate from his latest injury, one area he has little control over is the ongoing misconception of his role in the Browns defense.
When the former regime of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi selected Mingo with the sixth-overall selection of the 2013 NFL Draft, they sold it as the team adding an edge rusher who would disrupt opposing quarterbacks. Mingo did what he could as a rookie under former defensive coordinator Ray Horton, posting five sacks in 15 games.
But then Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil arrived in town and they realized that Mingo’s athleticism made him suited for a different role.
Consider the following from Mingo’s draft profile at NFL.com:
"Willing to take on tackles man-up, extends his arms to keep distance and can get off to grab backs trying to get through the hole. Takes tight ends into the background using his length and footwork. Works through blocks to get down the line to chase plays. Overall agility and length make him effective in coverage, can stay with running backs out of the backfield and wrap up receivers in space."
Under Pettine and O’Neil, Mingo is tasked with playing the SAM linebacker position, meaning that on passing downs he is responsible for dropping into coverage rather than rushing the quarterback. (Obviously the last sentence in that draft profile stuck with the defensive coaches.) In his first year in the role, Pro Football Focus graded Mingo positively as both a run defender and as a pass rusher.
Not bad for a player the some people are already referring to as a bust.
“My role was altered when these coaches came and I accepted that role. It’s about being unselfish and doing what’s asked of us to help the team win games.” – Linebacker Barkevious Mingo
Contrast that to the JAKE linebacker, whose responsibility on passing downs is to go after the quarterback. That role was filled quite competently last season by Paul Kruger, who recorded a career-best 11 sacks. For his part, Mingo only had two sacks but, again, he’s not asked to rush the quarterback so it is a bit baffling why people only point at sack totals when evaluating what Mingo brings to the defense.
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Along those same lines, it is puzzling to hear people continue to say that the Browns drafted Nate Orchard to replace Mingo. Orchard’s primary skill is rushing the passer and, if we are being kind, is below average when it comes to stopping the run. That is why he is listed behind Kruger on the depth chart in the pass-rusher position, rather than with Mingo and Scott Solomon on the opposite side.
The Browns have redefined Mingo’s role in the current defensive scheme with some positive results.
It may be time for fans to start doing the same.