By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo got out of the hospital Saturday morning, reported to the team’s training facility in time to eat gumbo for lunch and watched practice in the evening.
Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, wanted to join the action, but he must let his bruised lung heal first.
“I’m feeling really good,” Mingo said after practice. “Whenever the doctors and the coaches clear me, I’ll be back out there with those guys and trying to help this team win games.”
Mingo believes he suffered the rare injury during the opening kickoff of the Browns’ second preseason game Thursday night against the visiting Detroit Lions. He knew something was wrong because he couldn’t catch his breath and he spit up blood on the sideline.
“It was a little bit [of blood], but not a lot,” Mingo said.
Mingo left the game late in the first quarter after participating in five or six special teams plays, the last of which was Travis Benjamin’s 84-yard punt return for a touchdown that was wiped out by Joe Haden’s holding penalty. He didn’t play a defensive snap.
Mingo ran off the field and to the locker room early in the second quarter and was taken to the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus before the game ended. A former LSU standout, Mingo spent Thursday and Friday night in the hospital. He said he does not have any lingering symptoms.
“I’m perfectly fine,” Mingo said. “I was trying to get out [of the hospital] early [Friday]. They wouldn’t let me, but they’re just being very precautious. They don’t want anything to happen the day after or whatever. They’re just doing their jobs.
“I would think it would be serious, but I feel fine. I would rather be out there [practicing], but I’ve got to listen to the doctors and take their advice and take it slow and easy.”
Mingo said his ribs were not broken.
“Ribs are perfect,” Mingo said. “No pain, no bruising. I’m not sore. It kind of took the doctors for surprise, too. They figured there should be some soreness, but there wasn’t.”
Mingo said he hasn’t been given an estimated timeline of when he’ll be able to play again. But he’s expected to miss at least a week or two, a league source told the Beacon Journal, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation.
He’ll sit out the team’s “dress rehearsal” Aug. 24 at the Indianapolis Colts and possibly the Aug. 29 preseason finale at the Chicago Bears. The Browns open the regular season Sept. 8 at home against the Miami Dolphins.
“He looks great,” Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton said Saturday after visiting with Mingo during lunch. “As far as projection, the doctors will make that decision and we just want him to get healthy, and we’re just glad that everything’s OK. The projection will be whenever his body says it’s ready to go.
“He’s going to miss some time. We’re just happy it’s not a career- or season-ending injury. They’re all bad when they miss playing time. I can’t specifically say I’ve seen that [injury before].”
Mingo is disappointed he’ll be forced to sit out.
“I think [practicing] is the best way to help anybody learn,” Mingo said. “You have to go through it. I learn better when I do stuff, so now I’m missing out on valuable reps that could help me down the season.”
Horton conceded missing part of the preseason would be a setback for Mingo’s development, but it’s not a major concern.
“For a young guy, he needs every rep he can get,” Horton said. “He’s smart. He’s on page. He’s very smart. So for us, it’s just reps. It’s just seeing a different look. It’s seeing [Colts quarterback] Andrew Luck. It’s seeing different fronts and how they want to block him. So it will retard a little bit, but he’s pretty gifted in what he does, and he picks things up fast.”
Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard are the starting outside linebackers, but the Browns are counting on Mingo to become a key rotational player and an important part of their pass rush in Horton’s 3-4, multi-front, attacking scheme. Justin Cole received work with the second-team defense Saturday in Mingo’s absence.
“It doesn’t matter who the starters are,” Horton said. “Just give me 11 guys that want to go out and play and can play, and he is one of our 11. So will it hurt our team? Yeah, it will hurt our team because of our depth. But we’ll get him back soon and plug him right back in.”
Although Mingo said he thinks he suffered the injury on the opening kickoff, he’s not sure exactly which hit would have caused it.
“I was trying to think back to what happened, and I didn’t feel a hit was delivered that hard to make that happen,” Mingo said. “So it was a shock to me, but they’re doing everything they can to get me back right and get me back on the field.”
Horton doesn’t have a problem with using a first-round pick on special teams. Critics of the strategy argue that Mingo would have avoided the bruised lung had he not played special teams.
“I think you put your best 11 players on the field at any one time to give you the best opportunity to win,” Horton said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s your quarterback holding for extra points or your running back or wide receiver. You’re trying to win and evaluate people, and the sad part of this business is people will get hurt because it’s a physical game.”
Mingo said his brothers — he has four of them — were in town and visited him in the hospital. They quickly calmed his mother, Barbara Johnson, who called in a panic and thought Mingo had broken ribs.
Mingo, though, didn’t consider the situation a scare.
“Honestly, no it wasn’t [scary],” Mingo said. “If I didn’t have the shortness of breath, I think I would’ve still been out there. Nothing else was that bad that made me think I needed to get out. Just I couldn’t catch my breath. I thought it would be a good idea to tell the coaches. They got the trainers. They recognized those symptoms, and they pulled me out. They made the right call.”
It’s a good thing they did.
Mingo acknowledged his injury is “very unusual.” But, coincidentally, San Diego Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal suffered a bruised lung Saturday during practice, the team announced.
“It’s contagious,” Mingo said. “Yeah, I hope not. I hope there’s not any more.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.