Mingo dazzles in 1st game

Browns linebacker makes plays in different roles

Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo, left, has impressed his teammates in camp.
Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo, left, has impressed his teammates in camp.

BEREA, Ohio — There seemed to be four guys wearing No. 51 for the Browns in their exhibition opener.

Rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo was everywhere.

The first-round draft pick made a huge first impression in his NFL preseason debut, making big plays on defense and special teams in Cleveland’s 27-19 win against the St. Louis Rams.

Mingo, the No. 6 overall pick in April’s draft from LSU, had several pressures on Rams quarterbacks, recorded a sack that was nullified by a penalty, delivered a key block on Travis Benjamin’s 91-yard punt return for a touchdown, and made a tackle on a kickoff.

At one point, his brown jersey was even spotted in the Dawg Pound. That was just a fan, but he’ll soon be joined by others.

“It was fun, man,” Mingo said of his pro preseason debut. “It was everything I thought it would be. I enjoyed being out there with my teammates and just really enjoyed getting back to playing football.”

Mingo maximized every second he was on the field. On Cleveland’s first kickoff, he sprinted down and tackled Rams running back Isaiah Pead at the 14-yard line. But it was on defense when the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Mingo — everyone calls him Keke (key-key) — had his finest moments.

Although he’s working with the second-team defense, Mingo showcased his exceptional pass-rushing skills and speed off the edge that forced Rams quarterbacks into mistakes.

Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was impressed by Mingo. The moment didn’t seem too big for him.

“He has a knack for getting after the quarterback,” Jackson said. “He showed a tremendous amount of conditioning. For your first game, it usually jumps up on you. Everyone remembers that first preseason game. You take a couple deep breaths and you’re like, ‘OK, this is the real deal.’ But I watched him every play. He’s got a knack for getting after that quarterback.

“He has a motor, and you can’t teach that.”

Mingo’s motor revs nonstop. He’s always on the go, and even when he’s not moving, there’s a sense he’s about to accelerate.

Mingo appeared to record his first sack when he beat Rams backup tackle and former college teammate Joe Barksdale on a spin move, reached out, and threw down Rams backup quarterback Austin Davis with one hand.

However, the sack was wiped out by a tripping penalty. Mingo waved his arms toward Cleveland’s sideline, hoping the penalty would be declined. Still, it was a moment to savor.

“It was kind of flukish,” Mingo said. “I just barely got a hand on him and he fell.”

It hasn’t taken long for Mingo to win over his teammates. He’s still a rookie, and he’s subjected to the same treatment as other first-year players. He got a haircut like all the other “rooks” last week. But Cleveland’s veterans have taken note of Mingo’s humility and work ethic.

“He’s a freak, man,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “He just covers so much ground. And the thing that I like about Mingo, he’s not flashy, he doesn’t talk. He just goes out there, handles his business.”

In practice, Mingo has made some of the Browns offensive lineman look silly with his exceptional speed. During one-on-one drills, he’s often the star, blowing past tackles and guards with a spinning move.

“You can’t go in there with [just a] fastball,” Mingo said. “You’ve kind of got to play off the guy that’s blocking you and use his energy to help make the play.”