- Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Senior NFL Writer
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CLEVELAND -- If you can get over the whole three-sacks-in-his-last-23-NFL-games thing, Barkevious Mingo is a fine outside linebacker.
He’s cheetah-fast for his position. He’s versatile enough to play in coverage, allowing the Browns to mix-and-match coverages. He played all of 2014 with shoulder pain that resulted in offseason surgery. He’s the kind of guy you roll out as a team representative for a uniform unveiling.
But the sacks ... fair or not, it always goes back to the sacks for pass-rushers. Sacks equal money. And the Browns have paid Mingo $6,685,921 after signing bonus proration for seven sacks in two years. Mingo hasn't looked overly instinctual in this area.
If Mingo’s sack numbers were higher, perhaps assigning a pass-rusher to the Browns' No. 12 overall pick in mock drafts wouldn’t be so trendy. To be sure, the Browns value defensive depth, so drafting a pass-rusher wouldn’t necessarily be an indictment on Mingo.
If Mingo makes a Year 3 leap, everything gets easier for the Browns’ defense. He can be a catalyst.
That’s why this quote from Mingo on Tuesday is telling, even if he’s talking about his health.
“Next year’s going to be a different story,” he said.
Not to read too much into tone and intent, but Mingo seems to understand the chance in front of him. It’s Year 3. Probably time to make a leap. Coaches are anticipating this.
It’s important to view Mingo’s body of work with context. He fought through pain all year, earning respect in the locker room for playing 15 games despite a labrum injury that required offseason arthroscopic surgery.
Mingo expects to be “pretty close to all go” in offseason workouts, though he doesn’t yet have full range of motion for weightlifting.
“Just waiting on final word from the trainers,” Mingo said. “As a competitor, you’re going to always say you feel good. You can have a broken leg and I’m good enough to play. I felt like for the most part last year I was good enough to play. After the games, it was a different story. I put in the preparation during the weeks to get it back strong enough to where I could play. The season’s over, now I have a lot of rest and got it fixed. Next year is going to be a different story.”
The pain now is “night and day” better than five months ago. Mingo will enter offseason workouts as the No. 2 outside pass-rusher alongside Paul Kruger. And if the Browns draft a pass-rusher, that would be “great for this team,” Mingo said. The Browns could use a three-man rotation after the loss of Jabaal Sheard to New England. Armonty Bryant, returning from injury, is expected to help on the outside. The Browns like late-season signing Scott Solomon.
Big sack numbers or not, Mingo is a versatile option who likes how he was used last year.
“Toward the end of last year I was getting some free runs at quarterback because they assumed I was dropping,” Mingo said. “I like that game plan and hopefully we get some more free runs and switch up responsibilities so everyone gets a chance to make plays.”
Hopefully for the Browns, those plays come in the backfield.
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